Many small brands wonder when to make the leap from unbranded to branded custom packaging.

In a largely digital world, most small brands want to stand out as much as possible. That means serving customers on their entire journey with your brand, all the way to the packaging they receive it in (and beyond!) It’s all part of creating a memorable, shareable user experience.

Even though it’s good to invest in branded packaging early on, there are some key things to know first.

Why branded custom packaging matters for small businesses


There’s nothing like receiving an exciting new product that’s wrapped in unique custom packaging. A thoughtful, welcoming design lets you know this product is going to be top-notch. The customer thinks “wow -- this company really cares.” That’s why designing custom packaging is key to invest in early on.

CPG brands that saw the most growth in 2021 were consumer-centric, meaning the customer experience is their primary focus.
- Research firm, IRi

Personalization is more important than ever when it comes to products. A key piece of that puzzle was creating personalized experiences at home, IRI noted.

Brands should aim to create a custom, personalized experience so that they can really connect with consumers. In turn, shoppers are more likely to remain engaged and post about your product on social media channels. Building an organic community is important, so giving customers more reasons to tell your story will help your brand grow faster.

Paloverde Botanicals founder Jillian Wells said custom-printed packaging was a high priority from the moment she started her gift box business in 2020. When you specialize in boxes, you need to have awesome packaging for them. The brand creates botanical and plant-themed gift boxes, so of course, Wells wants the products to arrive safely nestled in fresh, eco-friendly packaging.

“I put a lot of time and energy into designing a cohesive mix of packaging elements that would surprise and delight our customers,” Wells said. “The importance of making a positive first impression can’t be underestimated.”

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One of Paloverde’s main brand goals is using high-quality sustainable materials that can be easily repurposed and reused. Branded packaging is a great way to catch consumers’ attention AND let them know you’re prioritizing sustainable packaging materials.

Sustainability is a major priority for consumers. In a recent report, research firm Nielsen found that customers are focused on environmental health as much as their own and their community’s health. More than ever, shoppers are seeking detailed answers about companies’ environmental practices throughout their supply chains. Brands that excel in this area are gaining market share, Nielsen noted.

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Luckily for brands, most consumers are willing to prioritize these values even if it means spending more.  

72% of global customers said they would pay premium prices for more sustainable products, while 52% said they would pay a little bit more than the typical price.

“Utilizing branded versus stock boxes was easily baked into the cost we pass on to the consumer,” Wells explained. “Based on the quality and attention to detail [it’s] a cost that our customers are willing and excited to pay for. [That] made this decision an easy one for us.”

As an added bonus, sustainable packaging can help save brands money in the long run. A brand will pay less environmental taxes if their supply chain is more sustainable. Of course, packaging is an important piece of that.

What to do before upgrading to branded packaging

Define your brand and customer

Before upgrading to custom branded packaging, you need to solidify your brand identity to ensure the packaging will align with the brand’s larger story.

Next, you need to define your specific target audience. Who is your consumer?
Consider geographic, demographic, and psychographic data to really build a solid portrait of the person you aim to sell to. What is this person's needs, and how will your products meet them?

Find a designer

Once you have formed a clear pathway, you’ll want to find a designer who can bring your packaging to life. Aim to find someone who can emulate a range of styles and has samples that resonate with you. Discuss their process: how will they use your input and feedback?

Finally, create a firm deadline that also gives the designers enough time to work their magic.

What to know about branded custom packaging

Cost analysis

Custom packaging may seem like a huge cost burden, but it’s not. For example, custom boxes from Packlane are available at one unit to start. You receive an instant quote as you enter the style and design on the site.

Additionally, the costs for custom boxes decrease significantly when just one ink color is used at higher volumes. At that point, there is a very small price difference compared to generic boxes.

According to Tal Moore, a CPG consultant and founder of brands including Franklin’s Gourmet Popcorn and Softy, investing in branded packaging is a win-win.

“I would argue that, for brands that can afford it (AOV north of $80-100), elevated packaging should be standard for EVERY customer.”
- Tal Moore

“[T]here’s a real opportunity to impress your customer to the point where they feel compelled to share their discovery socially.” He noted that the unpackaging experience is a major priority when he thinks about launching new products.

“We’re putting a lot of emphasis and mindspace on the unpackaging experience,” he said. “Our thesis is that it will pay huge dividends in the excitement around our brand and enthusiasm to share.”

Design and materials

The design and materials are both important pieces of a memorable unpackaging experience. Unboxing became even more important as more consumers shopped online in the past couple years.

What do you want consumers to do with your packaging? You want to create branded packaging with a purpose. Sharing the package on social media, keeping and reusing the packaging, or recycling or returning it to the company are all options.

Functional, high-quality materials that aren’t wasteful are the ideal goal. Customers care enough to research the materials you use and ask questions about where you’re sourcing them from.

Your design should let your brand story shine from the outside. For example, Paloverde’s outside packaging features botanical patterns that play directly into the brand story.

Having custom designs also allows great opportunities for themed or holiday-related designs throughout the year. This gives customers something to look forward to -- and another reason to keep shopping.

Brand awareness and social reach

Your packaging is an important way of communicating a brand’s message across the platform. Having something unique and sustainable encourages customers to share their experience with friends and family.

Think about the story you want people to tell, and make sure your packaging meets that need. Providing a memorable experience creates genuine excitement from customers. In turn, they will help your brand thrive by supporting and sharing its story online and offline too.

Branded packaging examples

Here are a few examples of ecommerce brands that are creating memorable customer experiences with custom packaging.

Ready to make the leap to custom packaging?

If you’re convinced that you’re ready to take the next step in enhancing your customer experience, then check out Packlane’s different custom packaging options. With tiny minimum orders, instant quotes, and fast turnaround times, you can start wowing your customers in no time!

This is a guest post from Beth Kaiserman, Content Marketer at Packlane.