For indie brands born online, Instagram-ready product packaging has become customer bait.
In August 2016, relatively unknown beauty brand Storybook Cosmetics announced a new collection of Harry Potter-inspired makeup brushes on Instagram. Once it finally launched in October, the brand received thousands of orders per minute, according to Bustle. Taste Beauty, now known for licensing pop-culture icons for beauty products, worked with Nickelodeon to develop a cassette tape–inspired eye-shadow palette that caught the attention of YouTube influencer Jeffree Star, who reviewed it for his 6.1 million subscribers.
Packaging, once primarily a utility, has evolved to act as a digital storefront for e-commerce brands. It’s a central component of product development, rather than a secondary afterthought, and it can enhance the user experience and communicate the personality of products — particularly on social media, where customers crafting an Instagram-worthy aesthetic see pretty, strategically placed products as currency.
Brands are increasingly tying themselves to packaging. Glossier and Herbivore products are minimalist, and their packaging evokes that, too, while Summer Fridays and Natura Brasil come in distinct metal tubes that convey a hand-craftedness. It’s a way for brands to easily show the type of products they have.
Larger brands have realized the power behind packaging, as well: MAC released its MAC x Aaliyah collection earlier this month that included a $250 box set shaped like a pyramid, which included a dozen makeup items, a bandanna and a poster of the singer. The collection sold out within minutes of going live. A flurry of other brands, including older ones like 8-year-old Kari Gran or 25-year-old Ofra, have recently unveiled updated packaging that also align with modern aesthetics around photo-friendly products.
“For many companies, their brand name is their largest asset,” said Page Moreau, a professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin, who conducted a study on consumers’ perceptions of product value. Brands usually build an association with a variety of emotions or perceptions with a customer, which is why some people prefer Target over Walmart, despite the two companies providing the same thing, she said. But, for new brands without a history, their packaging provides the opportunity to form new associations and demonstrate the value of their products.
“In e-commerce, you don’t [touch] packaging until it arrives, but it serves the same purpose [as a brand name],” Moreau said.
That’s an important element to remember when newer brands like Storybook Cosmetics are charging $55 for an eye-shadow palette that consumers cannot test out in-person. The e-commerce brand has built its business from whimsical packaging, including items that look like the burn book from Mean Girls or a quiver full of arrows that are actually brushes.
“[Packaging] is not a secondary thing for us,” said Erin Maynard, co-founder of Storybook Cosmetics. “It’s very striking on our website and Instagram, and we did that intentionally.”
The power of a visual platform like Instagram or YouTube has been central to the development of indie brands and the digital storefront concept. In a report recently released by the social media platform, it is stated that there are roughly 200 million beauty fans on Instagram worldwide, and over 25 percent of its global Instagram community follows a makeup account.
But with the success of viral packaging comes the challenge to build on the momentum and outpace the competition that can easily replicate the product. For its part, Taste Beauty has harnessed the use of 3D printing to quickly produce its products. Its L.O.L Surprise-inspired item was produced and distributed in less than a month after the authentic L.O.L — which features a sphere that customers unwrap, with items hidden in it — became a sell-out Christmas hit. Taste Beauty has since used its 3D-printing technique to carve out a place by continuously launching viral products, which is key to its growth. The 2-year-old company is on track to achieve $50 million in annual sales within three years, according to WWD.
Having a knack for trendy packaging can also lead a new brand to bigger pastures. Taste Beauty has developed a number of products for Sephora, like a Frenchie the Bulldog balm that sold out. Additionally, the company underwent a structural reorganization in February that diversified its business into three channels, comprising its own beauty brands made in-house, a licensing partnerships channel and Taste Labs, a brand and product development incubator.
“We are anticipating tremendous growth for the lab division, and about 10 to 15 products have come out so far,” said Alex Fogelson, co-founder of Taste Beauty.