Let's Talk About Our Package

Originally published April 19, 2017 on the Tiny Cables Medium publication.

It takes one-tenth of a second to render a first impression, and that judgment is nearly impossible to change. You only get one chance to make a first impression. No pressure.

For a company that sells something like, oh, I don’t know, charging cables, it stands to reason that a first impression is based on packaging and is an important part of Tiny Cable’s development is considering the box, colors, and copy that we use.

A killer first impression is the kind of thing that could give us a real leg up on the competition, especially considering that all of our competition offers remarkably similar packaging for their products:

Every third-party charging cable appears to come in the same white corrugated paper box with the following:

  • The logo for a nondescript manufacturer
  • Cable type
  • Cable length
  • The Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad (MFi) certification logo (and often a second line that reiterates that it’s for use with an iPod/iPhone/iPad)
  • Foreign language translations
  • Bright secondary colors (bright green, orange, yellow in these examples)

It’s time for my favorite question: why?

“Why?” is the most important question to ask —the greatest learning often happens when challenging market and individual assumptions.

In this case, we jammed on the following:

  • Why a corrugated paper box?
    The corrugated paper box is the near-universal choice for our competition. My assumption was this was to convey a higher-quality experience than if they came in a simple plastic bag.
    The real reason is far more practical: packaging sales people sold the competition on the idea that this packaging would keep the product safe during transit and result in less breakage than presumably-cheaper alternatives. When I asked an American packaging supplier for numbers to support these claims, I was ghosted. Sad! A contact who handles retail logistics for a major consumer electronics brand shared that their internal tests reflect absolutely no difference in breakage between corrugated paper boxes and items shipped in plastic bags.
  • Why the bright secondary colors?
    A 2006 study in the Management Decision journal found that 62% to 90% of a decision-making process about product based on color alone. Color can make a package stand out and communicate traits like quality. Color matters.
    My assumption was that bright colors (like those seen on the competition’s cable boxes) made a person think that the product was fast or exciting. (Technology!) There doesn’t appear to be a common thread among the leading traits for the colors I’ve observed. I think it’s just super-basic designers doing super-basic designer things. Boring.
  • Why do these companies repeat themselves so much?
    On the third box in the lineup, Case Logic repeats the cable compatibility twice and the fact that it’s a USB connection twice (three times if you count the fact that you can see the cable itself through the plastic). Is this necessary?
    As the saying goes, repetito mater studiorum est. (Or, for those who aren’t fluent, “repetition is the mother of all learning.”) If you say it in Latin, it must be true.
    Want some evidence? There is the Rule of Seven (which indicates a customer needs to hear your information seven times before committing it to memory), the HEADON! ads (“Apply directly to the forehead!”), Rote learning (which claims that more repetition increases recall), and those Kars4Kids radio spots. (Apologies if I ruined your day by mentioning anything here. “K A R S, Kars4Kids…”)

Some of the questions had more obvious answers: companies print foreign languages so that one box could be re-sold in other markets, they print their logos because they think they’re building a brand, and they use a white background because it’s easy(/cheap) to design for.

So, there’s not much to learn from the competition’s packaging.

Many believe that great packaging increases sales. I agree. The unfortunate truth is that no one in our space is doing a really good job (for us to uh, use as inspiration) and we aren’t in a position to test our way to a market-leading solution.

Oh, and another thing: since we’re planning to sell online, our first impression won’t be rendered based on packaging. It will be far more important to focus on the website design, product photography, and copy, so instead we’ll focus on keeping per-unit costs low and utility.

(Quick side-note: if we make the move to retail, I’d like to do an in-depth study and truly come up with the best packaging. The world needs this research. We’ll consider this for a future post when we sell through our first batch.)

The solution was immediately clear: a flat, low-density polyethylene bag. Think Ziploc bag but with a thicker plastic and a white backing on one side.

These poly bags are cheap ($0.10 per unit vs. $0.40+ for corrugated paper), take up less physical space than other packaging does (which will lead to a cost-savings on warehouse costs), and is easy to open.

The big realization: it’s what’s inside that counts. We’re here to make the best cable, not the best cable packaging.

It’s not quite as simple as that, of course: we can’t print on these bags. Our packaging supplier was quick to offer a business card-size insert, something they can print and insert for $0.08 per unit. Done.

I leaned on an exceptionally-talented designer friend, Gabe Mott. We told him we wanted to be direct and focus on what’s important:

Gabe nailed it:

That’ll do. Let’s get these things made. The order goes in this week.