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Good Things in Bad Packages
Good Things in Bad Packages
Branding lessons from holiday gift-wrapping disasters

The holiday season is upon us once again. For one day, the family stands around an evergreen, singing carols over hot cocoa instead of arguing. The tree glows softly. The fireplace crackles. All is calm. All is bright. All except … that present you wrapped for Aunt Julia.

Nothing spoils the festive mood quite like a horribly wrapped present sitting atop a tree skirt in all its aesthetic terror, staring at Aunt Julia like a fruit cake: ugly, unwanted, and utterly disappointing.

Now, I know you spent days searching for the perfect scale model metal Death Star origami kit for Aunt Julia. But Aunt Julia thinks there’s something under the tree with her name on it that vaguely resembles a candy-striped chupacabra. She’s almost afraid to open it.

Present wrapping is a little like branding. And just as a brand isn’t what you say it is but what your customers say it is, that present isn’t what you know it to be. It’s what Aunt Julia says it is. And Aunt Julia thinks it’s a slapdash, last-minute gift you picked up in the airport after your flight home.

So what can you do to make sure Aunt Julia is excited to open your present? The same things you’d do to get customers excited about purchasing from your brand. Here’s what wrapping gifts has to teach us about branding:

1. The outside matters.

Yes, the origami kit is the perfect present. It’s exactly what she wants. The problem is Aunt Julia is laying off the eggnog she’s been waiting all year for because your wrapping paper looks so bad it’s making her queasy. She can’t take it seriously.

Brands face the same problem. You may have an amazing product, but if the branding looks like it was developed in a shack out back, people will think your product or service was as well. Unless you’re selling homemade deer jerky, that’s a problem.

Well-executed brands provide the visual legitimacy required to entice people to buy products they’re unfamiliar with. I’m far more likely to enter my credit card information at sites like Amazon or Target than at a website covered with neon colors and cat GIFs (unless it’s to buy neon-colored cat mugs, because squeeeeeee).

2. The audience matters.

You could wrap the present in shiny gold paper, and it would look like a million bucks. But you know what would get Aunt Julia reeeeeally excited? Wrapping paper covered in AT-ATs wearing antlers.

A brand should also keep in mind who their customers are. You’re not trying to please everyone. In fact, a strong, focused brand might even offend some people. You need to discover who wants what you’ve got. And your brand needs to speaks their language.

For example, Apple’s sleek brand targets creatives—the progressives, designers, and fashion-forward set that make up its loyal fan base. But Microsoft has a more inclusive brand that speaks to a general audience as well as families.

3. The execution matters.

You not only used cheap, paper-thin packaging from the discount bin at the dollar store. You also did a bad job wrapping the box. The taping is sloppy, and one corner is sticking out of a hole. If you used quality paper, you’d want the wrapping to be well done—carefully taped with creased edges. You’d want it to convey the thought you put into selecting the right material.

Brands should also be executed with care. A great logo doesn’t go far without a thoughtful set of brand guidelines, and an amazing TV spot doesn’t help if it points viewers to an outdated website. Every detail has to reflect the quality of your product and the personality of your brand.

Fortunately for Aunt Julia, it’s not too late to rewrap your gift. When she leaves the room hoping to drown her disappointments in a seasonally spiced hot toddy, take the time to rebrand your gift and save the holiday. You’re her only hope.

P.S. If his family members are reading this, this author certainly wouldn’t mind receiving a perfect scale model metal Death Star origami kit of his own.