Targeting Millennials & Gen Z with Packaging
With a value statement expressed with emojis, it makes sense MeUndies’ target demographic consists of millennials and Generation Z. MeUndies’ business model as an online underwear subscription service has helped it break from the mold of the motononous task of underwear buying, but the brand goes a step further, implementing uniquely designed packaging every season, encouraging recipients to share the packaging and product on social media.
It hasn’t always provided packaging to reflect its brand message though. MeUndies wanted to develop seasonal packaging, but first it needed to streamline its design process and reduce costs. That’s when it turned to Lumi, a company that works specifically with ecommerce brands targeting millennials and Gen Z, to enable the frequent design changes it wanted for its packaging. According to a case study published by Lumi, prior to working with the company, MeUndies rarely changed its packaging design. Now it changes the design every two months.
By pivoting its packaging to align with its overall brand strategy and to appeal to its targeted demographic of millennials and Gen Z, MeUndies exemplified the authenticity needed to connect with this burgeoning consumer base.
Who Are They and What Do They Want?
Although the definition of “millennial” may vary slightly depending on whom you ask, in general, millennials are defined as those born in the years between 1980 and 2000, with Gen Z following immediately after that. And while Gen Z’s characteristics are still evolving, according to Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that helps brands identify growth opportunities through generational research, consumer intelligence and technology, there are definite differences between the two generations.
Fromm explains that millennials are more concerned with the environment and are more likely to engage with brands, whereas Gen Z is more concerned with political and social movements, such as gender equality and the “never again” movement, and are more private when it comes to engaging with brands.
Ron Sasine, principal at Hudson Windsor, a packaging consultancy focused on retail strategy and execution, recommends that when targeting millennials and Gen Z, there are three key themes that should be kept in mind when designing and printing packaging: authenticity, experience and appropriateness.
Authenticity, he says, is about presenting packaging that is an accurate depiction of what the consumer is seeking. Consumers want to know that what they’re buying meets the perception they have of the product, and the packaging has to meet that perceived authenticity as well.
The second key, experience, focuses on the idea that millennials and Gen Z want to purchase and interact with products and brands they’ve discovered while traveling, or that have been shared with them by friends and those whom they trust.
“We talk so much about social media,” Sasine says, “but an important part of [their] generation is social consumption; consumption inspired by and modeled on the consumption patterns of people that they follow.”
Sasine points to Campbell’s Well Yes! soup as a prime example of this concept.
“It screams ‘buy me!’ to a millennial consumer,” he explains. “It’s ready-to-eat soup based on innovative and exotic flavors, offers a number of vegetarian and vegan varieties, prominently features ingredients on its packaging rather than the traditional beauty shot of a bowl of soup and comes in a two-serving package rather than soup for a family of four.”
Not only is the packaging and quantity appropriate for on-the-go millennials, but the flavors match the desire for an exciting experience. Sasine says the international flavors, the simple preparation instructions and the packaging artwork meet the needs and desires of the consumer while differentiating this line from the traditional Campbell’s brand.
The final theme Sasine points to is appropriateness. Millennials and Gen Z are looking for appropriately sized packages that will fit more easily in their apartments and are designed for a slower rate of consumption. Products need to be portable and convenient to match the lifestyles of these generations.
Fromm describes this as the idea that the product and packaging should not only be fast, easy and on-the-go, but serve as a way to “simplify life.”
During a May 16 presentation at Luxe Pack New York called “How Luxury Brands Embrace the Millennial Mindset,” Fromm delved into the “new framework” behind what defines a millennial and Gen Z consumer. One of the key differences is that today’s modern consumer wants proof that the product a brand is offering aligns with the brand’s overall strategy and mission. He explained it’s more about brand “behavior” than brand “positioning,” because consumers want a brand that lives its purpose.
“Transparency won’t be enough in the future,” he told the crowd.
He also explained that modern consumers crave information about brands and desire more customization to support consumers’ personal brand, which Fromm referred to as “brand me.” He also said “innovation is an expectation,” of which packaging plays a key role.
As much as each generation’s preferences have evolved from the one preceding it, so too has packaging evolved to adapt to those preferences. Two key changes Sasine points to are product conservation solutions and “unitization.” With millennials and Gen Z exhibiting slower rates of consumption due to starting families later in life, along with maintaining on-the-go lifestyles, being able to close a package and conserve a product for longer becomes extremely important. Unitized products are also gaining appeal for their one-time use solution.
“[Millennials and Gen Z] are looking for a fairly unitized, fairly storable product if it’s not going to be immediately consumed,” he says. “That’s where the standup, resealable pouch gets a lot of its attractiveness.”
Another reason product conservation is more important to these generations is that they are increasingly willing to pay more for a specialty product, such as organic or plant-based foods, and therefore, will want to be able to preserve it for a longer period of time.
The main takeaway is that while human needs will remain the same from generation to generation, the delivery needs to evolve. Sasine describes the shift from consumers turning away from the “big food” companies, such as General Mills and Kellogg, to brands where the packaging is designed to meet the needs of the consumer.
“People are still trying to eat the same 2,500-2,800 calories per day and they’re trying to drink the same seven liters of liquid, they’re just doing it differently,” he says. “That decision about how we do it and where we choose to shop and what we choose to buy, all of that has a massive impact on the packaging world.”
The Shift to Ecommerce
How and where a consumer decides to shop is being decided more often now by the rise in ecommerce, requiring packaging to meet the needs of this shift. Sasine explains that in 2017, 10% of all shopping was done online, however that number is expected to swell to 40% by 2026.
“If there was a segment of your business that you knew would grow four times over the next 10 years, you would dedicate some resources to it,” he says.
The crucial aspect of preparing for this shift, he says, is to understand what a package will look like when it arrives at a consumer’s door. If someone is at all involved in the packaging design or production process and they are not the one engaging with packaging on a consumer level, Sasine suggests regularly ordering items from an online store. This way, their perspective will shift as they interact with packaging as a consumer and better understand how packaging plays a role in ecommerce products.
After all, even if a product is ordered online, its packaging is what the consumer interacts with first when it arrives on their doorstep, explains Stephan Ango, founder of Lumi.
“We believe that packaging is the storefront for ecommerce business,” Ango said in an email. “Brands are looking for a unique unboxing experience that sets them apart from anything else that their customers might receive in their mailbox.”
Ango explained that Lumi is focused on building the software platform designed to allow ecommerce brands to streamline the packaging design process, from sourcing to proofing, manufacturing and delivery to the final product, as well as structural engineering services. The platform enables brands to differentiate themselves more often and with greater variability. Ango explains that differentiation could come from graphics, design changes or sustainability efforts.
However, the biggest trend Ango is seeing in packaging when it comes to millennials and Gen Z is the level of quality expected.
“Because secondary packaging is becoming the new primary packaging, the level of fidelity our customers expect for color and detail is quite high compared to what you would typically expect from printing on materials like corrugated,” he says.
In fact, social media is one of the places Sasine suggests brands and printers do some research to understand the types of packaging people expect.
“I’m a big advocate for getting to know customers and consumers in the places where they live and breathe,” he says.
The Next Step
If a printer or converter isn’t already addressing the changing consumer base, Sasine recommends working on flexibility of run size, individualization, faster changeovers and considering digital technology, if it isn’t already a solution in the arsenal.
In one way or another, package printers and converters should be aware of generational differences among the youngest consumers. Fromm explains in a sea of options, packaging can be the catalyst of a purchase.
“Packaging is meant to inform, inspire and engage consumers, for consumers who have a proliferation of choices,” he concludes.
Related story: What Do Social Media Influencers Look for in Packaging?