Little does the peacock know that its tail is more than a mating asset——it’s also a perfect allegory for the connection between design and desire. The bigger the tail a peacock has, the better chance it has at attracting a mate. This evolutionary flourish comes at the expense of a swift escape from any predators. Actually, that’s the point.
Costly signaling theory explains how expensive, ostensibly wasteful behavior creates desire by signalling value. A peacock’s big, heavy tail feathers might prevent it from running very fast, but this in itself is a proclamation of confidence, which adds deeper meaning to the beauty of the colorful feathers. This bird is bold and fearless. This has been so effective that there’s practically been an arms race of male peacocks growing bigger, brighter tails, strutting so flamboyantly we’ve even coined the word “peacocking” in their (dis)honor.
But, as with anything, there must be a cost-benefit analysis——not even evolution is exempt from that. If the effort or expense of certain traits outweighs the benefits, it either results in death or failure to reproduce. No offspring, no big tails.
Another example of costly signalling theory is the lawn: as private property came into existence, unoccupied open space became a status symbol. While common people used what real estate they had to produce food or raise livestock, the wealthiest——from aristocratic manor houses in 17th Century England to Louis XIV’s « le tapis vert » at Versailles——flaunted sprawling grass-covered lawns and ornate gardens. Lawns, like a peacocks’ tail, are a way to use actual space as expressing one’s superiority in their social structure.
With human-designed products and brands, we can take inspiration from this theory by taking up space in strategic ways to spark desire in consumers. For example, for one of our clients, we put a poem on the box of their products, instead of crowding the box with sales-y text or fine print. This is an apparent misuse of real estate that elevates the brand’s visual expression, evoking a feeling of true luxury. A poem on a box is unusual use of space indeed - however it signals that the brand considers a poem to be worthy of that space and elevates the consumers’ experience of the brand.
Every one of your brand’s visual or physical touchpoints presents an opportunity to spark desire in customers. Good packaging design prolongs the anticipation from reception to unboxing, which makes the product inside all the more cherishable. Like unwrapping a present that’s been thoughtfully wrapped in decorative paper and ribbons——the moment of receiving the item itself becomes as memorable as if it was a gift instead of something they’d bought for themselves.
Desire is created when the product/brand signals that it is functional; that is, it's good for something the consumer wants to do, it is aesthetically pleasing, and unique enough to seem somewhat scarce. If one of those is missing, the consumer can still feel desire for the brand or product. Yet, it's in other territories than 'desirable brand' and moves into art, luxury, and masstige consumer territories.
Think outside the box, literally. When your brand’s packaging stands out in the mailroom or on the doorstep, that’s where the lifecycle of excitement about your brand/product begins.
How often do you get an Amazon box? How fast does that make it out of your house? There’s an art to creating a box that stands out amongst a sea of brown cardboard and leaves behind a lingering feeling even after it’s been sent off for recycling.
* This way of signaling value works well beyond the customer’s experience: when it’s sitting on the recipients’ doorstep, it also sparks curiosity about your brand in neighbors or passers-by.
The moment of truth: opening the box. Obviously the struggle someone has to go through to open a package can taint the experience, even if the difficulty is intended to discourage tampering or theft on its way to their home.
To signal value and intentionality through your packaging, there are simple but meaningful ways to reduce friction and eliminate frustration from the first step in the unboxing journey.
There’s an outsized amount of satisfaction to be found in the moment you realize you have only to simply pull a string to open a package, as opposed to scrambling for a box opener or pair of scissors. That satisfaction comes from the implicit care consumers feel because the brand has invested in optimizing their experience.
Even the functional components of the outside packaging present an opportunity to impress and influence your customer. Seemingly simple details, like tape printed with your logo to secure the outside of the box, signal to customers that this company spares no expense to craft their image. Such next-level attention to branding elevates peoples’ perception of your brand’s commitment to quality, too.
Once the customer has received the package, they’re eager to get inside the box to the contents they’ve purchased, but this opening moment can be leveraged as a touchpoint to sustain desire and connection. They may not be conscious of it in the moment, but they will notice the friction they’re not experiencing. They’ll certainly appreciate that someone took the extra steps beyond what was necessary, and put care into making their experience feel effortless. Such conscientious design creates more of an affinity for your brand than your product alone can.
The unboxing journey presents several opportunities for emotional engagement. Imagine this as a stand-in for the in-store experience: you want to hold their hand and guide them through that pivotal moment of first engagement.
The box opens. It’s the dramatic moment your customer has been waiting for ever since they placed the order. This is your chance to curate an experience that will seal the connection and keep them coming back for more.
Say something unexpected or meaningful. Something as simple as a one-liner message on the inner flap of the box reflects your brand spirit and tone. Go beyond your tagline or logo——add a personal touch. Speak directly to your customer and help them know what to feel by surprising them something personal and endearing, like ‘Nice to finally meet you’ or ‘Honey, I’m home,’
Consider the box’s interior to be a part of the product’s presentation.
Use this space to add a branded touch. It matters to customers that their items are packed neatly and securely. You can achieve this with cardboard cutouts and modular protective materials made to fit around your products snugly, which also adds to the ease of unboxing for the consumer’s satisfaction. There are also ample opportunities to elaborate on your brand’s message and personality inside the box; for example, a friendly reminder to recycle the packaging demonstrates your brand’s values and mindfulness of the environment.
Similarly, if the product or packaging requires certain tools to open or assemble, consider providing them with whatever they need. This comes across as going above and beyond out of consideration for the customer, further enhancing the emotional connection, but it’s also yet another promotional opportunity for your brand (for example, the tools/accessories can display your brand’s logo or colors). For example, Inside weather send a power screwdriver, Ourplace pans send a cleaning pad, and spoonful of comfort sends a ladle. Such special touches makes the customer feel cared for, and they may keep the extras for future use. They’ll not only appreciate it, they’ll continue to show off your brand long after they’ve discarded the rest of the packaging.
Hopefully, at this stage, your product made an impression. The attention to detail, the attention to the consumers' situation, and the investment in that experience should pay off in a few ways:
The unboxing experience can make it online: The user has a beautiful, thoughtful setting for them to share an image of their new purchase - which adds to your brand equity. Secondly, you've formed a connection with the consumer. You are now closer to a repeat purchase - you might start enjoying the fruits of your investment in the user's post-purchase experience and enjoy a longer consumer lifetime value.
These kinds of details may seem small or even obvious, but they truly make all the difference in a customer’s perception of a brand and its products——and this experience can even make (or break) their loyalty to the brand in the future. The most successful brands are those who have the foresight to invest in these details and build out a world around their products that people want to identify with. These emotional connections can spark the desire in people to make your product/brand part of their self-expression. Win their trust and loyalty, and much of the rest of the marketing work will be done for you through organic brand evangelism.