Let’s Get Emotional: Leveraging Wine Packaging to Connect with Your Customers

Author of the new best-selling book Unraveling the Mysteries of Marketing, Jeffrey Slater is the Global Director of Marketing for Nomacorc, the leading brand of still wine closures with 2.3 billion corks sold in 2013 and the recently launched sugar cane-based Select Bio. He was most recently the EVP of Marketing for the snack food division at ConAgra Foods. He writes a popular marketing blog called MomentsSlater.

At its core, packaging is truly about creating an emotional connection with your customer. It’s not enough to be top of mind; being center of heart should be a priority as well. It’s integral to find a way to tell that story, because packaging is about so much more than form and function. It’s about the way you create an emotional experience around a package and tie it in to an overarching brand journey.

How do I know if my packaging is great or if I’ve missed the mark?

What people say versus what they do can be dramatically different. If you ask: “Why did you pick up this product as opposed to the other three on the shelf?” more often than not, the customer won’t be able to articulate the reason. That’s because 90% of their reasoning might be unconscious, and therefore based on emotion.

There’s a great book called Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience can Empower and Inspire Marketing by Douglas Van Praet.  He explores the concept of breaking expected patterns to garner customer’s attention. In doing the research around this, he learned that the best way to draw conclusions about consumer behavior wasn’t though dialogue- it was through observation.  

Don’t directly ask: “Which is the better package, and why?” The best way to find out which packaging is superior is to put it on the shelf. Watch customers’ eye movement, what they gravitate toward, what they pick off the shelf and other visual cues through body language. Observing customer behavior in the wild is key to making the right decisions for your product.

Is it to my benefit to go super-experimental with my packaging to stand out from the crowd?

In my opinion, the objective isn’t to go for shock value for the sake of attention. Pay close attention to your brand story and the journey you’re trying to map for the consumer. How can you interrupt the pattern that they expect to surprise and delight them, yet remain consistent with the brand messaging and journey?

In the wine industry in particular, we find that on the whole packaging has a tremendous amount of common elements that don’t break that pattern- glass bottles in a traditional shape, with inner sealed closures, etc. People typically want to operate in a very safe zone, and very rarely do they color outside the lines. Most products have traditional packaging, so it can be surprising when a wine brand truly stands out. I encourage more companies to be more experimental and creative, but only if it is in alignment with their brand experience.

What elements of packaging are most often overlooked and underutilized?

There’s great value in paying attention to the senses beyond sight. In particular, decisions around smell, texture and sound should be considered. Most people don’t realize that a can of Dr. Pepper versus a Coke versus a Pepsi all have different tones and sounds to the pop when the can is opened. It’s a very subtle element of the experience, but it certainly plays a role when it comes to solidifying that emotional connection. The familiar pop of an inner sealed closure from a favorite bottle of wine can reinforce a customer’s appreciation of a familiar and beloved ritual, and that value should not be underestimated.

Aroma functions in a similar way to reinforce brand loyalty. For example, for years my wife and I have been buying scented garbage bags, which I think is an incredibly smart product. It disguises the odor of trash for a time, and it’s a really clever idea. As a result, I only buy that brand and I only buy one particular scent because it connects to me. The aroma reinforces my strong appreciation of the product, and it plays a major role in turning me into a loyal customer.

What type of packaging tickles your fancy? I’d love to hear from you, but even better, I prefer to see! I welcome you to post snapshots of your favorite (wine or non-wine) packaging on Twitter or Instagram using the #WineExec hashtag so we can all be inspired by some of the great creative work out there. 

I love discussing topics around the intersection between packaging, branding, and marketing, and I’m looking forward to presenting at Wine Packaging Strategy: Decide, Design, Impress at UC Davis on June 4th. I’ll be breaking down ten ways how wine packaging creates emotional bonds with consumers, and how wine businesses can leverage those lessons in making decisions for their products. Register today, and I hope to see you there.