Recently, Keypoint Intelligence released data from a new vertical market survey that reflects how a classic concept—unboxing—has become today’s news.

No company illustrates the power of unboxing more than Apple. Apple users know the deal. Opening the box of your new iPhone or Airpods is just so exciting. Sure, there is the anticipation of trying out your new toy, but it’s more than that. There is something about opening the packaging itself that amplifies the effect. This is a power that Keypoint’s survey reflects and that today’s marketers of packaged products can learn from.

It’s hard to put into words, but Apple’s packaging is mesmerizing. It is as if someone devoted an entire lifetime to designing this simple—yet perfect—shape in such a way that, during the unboxing (whether it’s your product or someone else’s), it is nearly impossible to turn away. There is also something about the feel of the box. The top slips off the lower half like a silk glove, and the substrate and coating add to this luxurious sensation. You almost want to put the top back on and do it again. Some people do. The packaging is almost as engaging as the product inside, and that’s not an accident.

“Unboxing” is the process of removing the product from the packaging, and the experience is how it feels when you do. This experience can be dull and forgettable. Or, as Apple has demonstrated, it can be extravagant and sensory.

In today’s world of virtual and digital experiences, unboxing has become that much more important. In a pandemic-altered society, the tactile brand experience of unboxing often replaces the one that many people are used to having in the store. According to Keypoint’s “Vertical Industry Views from a Socially Distanced Perch” (2020), 77% of companies producing packaged products are now focused on the unboxing experience. Thirty-nine percent are working to enhance the shipping box, while 38% are working to enhance the primary packaging itself.

As Keypoint noted in the WhatTheyThink article announcing the new survey, “Since businesses have less of an opportunity to connect with their customers in person, they are using packaging to maintain this connection.”

There are lots of articles out there on enhancing the unboxing experience. The release of Keypoint’s data made me wonder afresh about Apple’s approach. What made it so special?

Back in 2017, the Swedbrand Group did an analysis on Apple’s approach to creating the perfect packaging. This analysis still holds true today. It describes Apple as an “acknowledged master at creating an iconic sensory experience that communicates its brand without any words or even a logo.” Here are some fun facts that contribute to this experience:

  1. Apple has designers solely devoted to packaging. These designers know packaging. That’s all they do.
  2. Apple also has designers whose job is to open hundreds of prototype boxes. That’s all they do. (Can you imagine?) The more boxes you open, the more sensitive you become to the tiniest imperfection. Apple proves that perfection takes work.
  3. For Apple, the unboxing experience is more than about aesthetics. It’s also about ease of use. As much as its approach is focused on incredible design, it is also focused on making the boxes easy to open, making the component parts easy for the user to identify, and making it easy to start using the product.
  4. The intentional minimalism isn’t just for looks. Because studies show that customers only spend about five seconds looking at a box, more text creates clutter and makes it less likely that the message will get through. Apple’s minimalism ensures that buyers focus on one thing—the brand.

Apple takes its packaging very, very seriously—and it pays off. One of the writers of these articles, Jamie Clondiffe of Gizmo, sums it up this way: “Rightly or wrongly, I still get excited whenever I open an Apple product. In fact, I get a little excited when anyone opens something from Apple.” I think we all feel this way.

Many articles about Apple’s unboxing experience were written around the release of Adam Lashinsky’s book “Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired—and Secretive—Company Really Works.” But not much has changed since then. People still hover around someone who just bought an Apple product…and it’s as much about the unboxing experience as it is the product itself.  

While not every company can be Apple, this tale does illustrate the importance of the unboxing concept…and a glimpse into what it looks like to focus on unboxing as part of a strategic marketing plan. So if your clients are looking for a new way to engage their customers in a socially distanced world, maybe it’s a good time to ask, “Have you thought about unboxing lately?”