Does Product Packaging Matter?

Simple Welcome Card

Apple, Simple Offer Packaging Inspiration for Credit Unions

One of the more fascinating anecdotes about Apple is how much they care about packaging. While many companies give packaging hardly a second thought, or others try to minimize the ancillary cost of packaging with the cheapest materials they can find, Apple has (apparently) a room dedicated to package design. Overkill or brand builder?

I have, and have had, quite a few Apple products over the years – but the starting point of my Apple commitment was with the first iPhone. I, a stalwart PC user with a Blackberry, found myself in an AT&T store in 2007. I bought an iPhone. It was expensive. It was worth it. It ended up changing my entire computing universe.

But, what I most remember of that first experience was the box. It was a slick, black box that felt slightly heavy. The top fit snugly on the base, and when I went to slide the top off it seemed to let go in a dramatically slow fashion. Once the top finally broke free of the base I was confronted with my new iPhone sitting comfortably in a special carved out spot right on top. The only thing visible was the phone.

Ok, enough with the overly dramatic description of my iPhone reveal. Though a true story, my real point is that the story, my story about opening an iPhone box, was scripted entirely by Apple. At a time when so many consumer electronics products were baked in impenetrable plastic packaging requiring an assortment of knives and bandaids to open, Apple was concerned about a box.

Maybe their concern about packaging, in the end, makes no difference to most consumers, but for me it was memorable. The box made a statement that the product – including the company behind it – was high quality. It made a statement that the amount of money I spent on a “phone” was not spent on a piece of junk. Since the day I opened that box I have purchased each iteration of iPhone, two versions of the iPad, and am on my second MacBook Pro. I’ll add that opening the box has been a perfect experience for each product.

So to the title of this post. Does packaging matter? I think it does, more than we care to admit, and the fact is that we in the financial community are horrible at it.

Consider the receipt of a new credit or debit card. They come in nondescript envelopes. The cards are stuck to a piece of paper with adhesive that resembles some kind of nasal discharge. A sticker on the front gives the number to call for card activation, which is often a nondescript computer voice perfectly matching the nondescript envelope the card came in.

I have account relationships with seven different banks and credit unions. They all do it this way. So… who cares? If it’s the standard, why be different?

I became a Simple customer not too long ago. Much has already been written about Simple. Industry insiders have strong opinions about them, their business model, etc. I don’t care what you think of their model, but I do care that you know they nailed the product packaging and delivery of their debit card. Their messaging about the fact that the card was on its way made me excited to get the card. When I got the card, it was nicely packaged in a heavyweight card stock envelope along with a message that it was going to be a great day… and it made me excited to use my card.

The attention to detail given to the delivery of my card made me notice other small touches, like the fact that the card stock matched the color tone on their iPhone app, or the carefree style they applied to their copy, or the fact that the computerized activation recording shows some personality. In short, it made me “notice that they were unique.”

Now, how unique are they really? I have a debit card which is a lot like every other debit card I possess. Though it has a few more tools and an improved ease of use, their website functionality is similar to Mint. So why is it that I have this belief that my Simple account is somehow better, more fun than my other accounts? Because that is how they want me to feel. Everything is packaged in such a way as to make me believe what they want me to believe about their brand.

I’ve heard the rebuttals that all that packaging won’t matter if they fail as an organization, if they can’t scale, if they can’t find additional revenue streams. I get it, but I also remember Steve Ballmer chortling over the iPhone and predicting its likely failure as a device the mass-market would adopt.

Criticism of Simple’s business model obscures a very valuable lesson for us all. Packaging matters – and it can be done well. What Simple knows, and Apple and Nike and a host of other successful brands is that while brand awareness starts with good advertising, strong consumer relationships start with a good package – and the package should most certainly reinforce the brand value proposition.

Banks and credit unions need better packaging for debit cards, for loan documents, new account applications, balance transfers… just about everything. But, the key is that the package needs to match the brand. Perhaps here is where we find the root cause of poor packaging. Far too many institutions have no real brand message, so they end up leaving the packaging of products to chance, to whim, to outsourced ill-informed vendors, and even to regulators. It’s time to stand out, to take control, to own the presentation of your brand that occurs during a member’s first real interaction with you – whether that interaction is completing an application, getting that first debit or credit card, making a deposit, or even reading a disclosure. Perhaps if you do it will change a member’s perspective of you in meaningful, positive, and long-lasting ways.

Glatt Consulting assists credit unions nationwide and of all sizes with strategy decision-making and execution. Schedule an appointment to discuss strategy development at your credit union. You may also want to learn more about the general approach we take to credit union strategy consulting projects.

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