Animated conversation, laughter and music echoed across the waters off Florida’s eastern coast as the 1920s-themed party progressed late into the evening. Planned and hosted by a Fortune 100 company, the event welcomed elegantly dressed invitees who danced and dined sumptuously inside the famed Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. To conclude the night, a thank-you gift was in order, and only an exclusively designed commemorative item would match the upscale atmosphere of the event.
In the planning stages, the host company came to Diane Katzman, president of Diane Katzman Design (asi/63988), asking for a spectacular giveaway. Katzman and her creative team got to work designing and making Art Deco-inspired jewelry for the female guests. But instead of the obligatory logoed pouch or gift bag, each came in a handpainted gold leaf Erté box, presented on silver trays as an after-dinner surprise. “We make sure our packaging accessorizes the product being delivered,” says Katzman. “It’s the first thing that’s opened, so it sets the scene and creates excitement for what’s inside.”
While distributors spend days and weeks painstakingly conceiving the perfect promotional item, they often leave the packaging as an afterthought. That is an egregious mistake, says Jamie Stone, president & owner of Gifts By Design (asi/205947). The Seattle-based company takes packaging into consideration from the very first planning stages of its customized corporate gifts. Many clients actually choose the packaging first before settling on a gift, knowing the impact it will have. The best packaging not only lends the giver credibility, but also triggers an immediate positive reaction. “The perception of the giver’s brand goes way up when an item is beautifully presented,” Stone explains. “If it’s a themed event and the packaging ties in with that theme, it shows you care enough to go that extra mile. Great presentation increases perceived value by engaging the recipient even before they’ve opened up the package.”
When it’s creative, well thought-out and detail-oriented, packaging and presentation can help in everything from upselling to strengthening a company’s professional authority. It’s not just the gift that counts.
By making presentation a priority, distributors and decorators can give even the most standard items a completely different perception. “We’ll embroider a basic tee for a custom order, and if it’s packaged well and maybe even includes a private label, the recipient thinks they really have something,” says Joe Thompson, director of sales & marketing at Stitch Designers (asi/741145). “Packaging does everything for perceived value of our clients’ items. A 25-cent private label can actually double what someone will pay.”
In fact, presentation alone often determines the initial perceived value of the entire package, according to Eric Rubin, president of Blue Generation (asi/40653). “You can make an expensive item look cheap or a cheap item look upscale just by the labeling and packaging,” he says. “We lend our value-priced garments retail flair with labels and descriptive hangtags. We also neatly pack everything in branded polybags. This all increases perceived value.”
While elegant packaging can elevate even the most bargain basement of products, it’s practically a requirement to emphasize the luxury brand image of some clients. Recently, decorator Black Duck Inc. worked with a high-end women’s clothing retailer to create a line of fine blank tees, then placed each one in a fashionable foil-printed handle box that resembled a purse. “It added tremendously to the product’s luxury feel,” says Erich Campbell, embroidery digitizer/designer and e-commerce manager. “For another order, we pinned custom-printed hemp-tied tags to each garment individually. Whatever image the customer wants to present, we’ll work on a strategy to package the garment to match their message.”
Beyond the client, that polished brand image can also reflect back to the distributor or decorator. A&P Master Images (asi/702505), for example, polybags all of its decorated garments with an intricate full-color print. “The design shows off our capabilities and includes our contact information,” says CEO and Owner Howard Potter. “We want to wow the recipient and make sure we’re legitimate in front of potential customers.”
For the distributor and decorator, it makes upselling easier and establishes a solid reputation for quality among customers. “If your company takes care with such details,” says Campbell, “the sense is that you will take that care with everything you do and your profile increases significantly.”
Thinking Outside the Box
There are a myriad of ways to present customized packaging (see sidebar). But increased engagement can begin with something as simple as an imprinted box. The Icebox (asi/229395) uses its own branded packaging as a direct extension of its marketing efforts. “It’s an important differentiator for us as a distributor,” says Chuck Norton, the company’s director of operations. “We ship in eye-catching blue and white boxes, and we have since our inception. It’s the first thing the recipient sees, so it has to have a positive impact. People really notice them, so it gives The Icebox a visual representation and there’s an elevated expectation for the items inside.”
What’s inside counts, too. “When we fulfill awards programs for individual recipients, we custom print a shipping box and die-cut foam to fit the award perfectly inside,” says Stone. “The recipient feels that a lot of effort has been expended to make the presentation special.”
Not every order has to be labor intensive to make an impression. Stone has also placed goods in fully printed drawstring bags, custom boxes, gift baskets, backpacks, even water bottles. “We’re looking for fun and unexpected,” she says. “You can use custom packaging in hundreds of different ways. We always start off by asking ourselves, what is the best possible way to present this client’s item?”
Thompson agrees that it’s all about what works best for individual customers. “We’ve put T-shirts in tubes, because that’s popular at retail,” he says. “We can get cardboard customized with the client’s information. If a Fortune 500 company wants embroidered shirts from Cutter & Buck (asi/47965), for example, they’re definitely looking for perceived value and the packaging has to match.” A typical high-end corporate package, he explains, includes garments folded neatly in boxes with a custom color bottom, clear lid, branded gold ribbon and a name tag.
Not To Be Overlooked
What happens when presentation gets lost in the shuffle? The products are received poorly, says Campbell, and the giver risks losing a customer. “Say the recipient finds a wrinkled T-shirt in a plain envelope, and it slumps out of the package when opened,” he says. “Then they’re given the same shirt, tissue-wrapped and boxed neatly with an informational hangtag and a custom label. Which will seem more valuable? It’s the same shirt eliciting very different experiences and reactions.”
While the tendency to skimp on packaging and presentation can seem tempting or even necessary in light of often limited resources, disappointing clients is a risk too real to leave to chance. “When presentation looks haphazard and disorganized, the recipient is definitely less likely to place a reorder,” says Potter frankly. “It should never look last-minute. It’s all about speed and quality.”
Sometimes, only the best presentation will do, regardless of the cost incurred. For example, high-end corporate gifts always call for a polished, professional, retail-inspired appearance in order to impress discerning recipients, says Thompson. “Say you have a 500-piece premium dress shirt order with custom packaging,” he explains. “That’s 500 colored boxes with clear lids and ribbon, and maybe an 8,000-stitch logo on each shirt. You’re looking at about $40 a piece, depending on the cost of the shirt.”
But creativity doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive. “For smaller companies, there are so many inexpensive items that make a nice presentation and then can be reused for years,” Stone says. “Try using one of the items included in the gift as the package itself, like a backpack or water bottle. Great packaging doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Katzman also recommends saving money by combining the packaging with the gift. “Creative packaging can be inexpensive and still create a ‘wow’ effect,” she says. “We made flowers out of scarves for a children’s hospital charity luncheon. It minimized floral costs and served as a takeaway gift. This way, the client didn’t spend money on both gifts and flowers, but they got both, and well under budget.”
Even the most inexpensive packaging can take extra manpower. But it’s not to be looked at as a waste of resources. In a competitive marketplace, where customers always come first yet are often fickle, companies can’t afford to lose focus on presentation. “Additional costs associated with packaging are a reinvestment into the brand,” says Norton. “With everything being equal – product, quality, price – the only way you can differentiate yourself is through packaging and presentation.” – Sara Lavenduski is an intern for Wearables.