You’ve been checking UPS updates all day to track when your shipment will finally arrive. A doorbell ring, rushed scurry, and excited squeal later, you’re finding scissors to unbox the package. You open it up and discover your eagerly awaited item is wrapped in the coolest tissue paper. The pattern on the inside pops and there’s a personalized card from the business—you’re seriously impressed.
If you’ve had this moment, you know what a difference the unboxing experience can make. And every single one of your customers can enjoy it. As Taylor Holiday, Managing Partner of Common Thread Collective, says, “Your unboxing experience is the only marketing channel with a 100% open rate.” Sure, you’ll send out lots of emails and push out paid ads on social. But this moment—the big reveal—is your one guarantee with the customer. How will you maximize it?
To start, it’s important to have a philosophy that actually goes beyond the unboxing experience. Here’s the thing: Caring about your customer and creating a memorable experience for them actually helps you. In fact, much of Taylor’s philosophy is grounded in this belief. In a recent interview with Taylor, we discussed how investing in others—your customers, your employees, your culture—will all funnel back to you.
Make Your Customer the Hero
Flashback to that exciting moment from before where you’re unboxing your brand-new product. What makes you smile? Plain styrofoam and a sheet listing brand values? (Probably not, but no judgment if that’s your aesthetic.) Or is it more like bright, bold colors and clever packaging? The unboxing experience is so delightful, YouTube is flooded with videos of people unboxing everything from new makeup to ice cream orders. According to Google, the amount of time people spend watching unboxing videos just on their phone is equivalent to watching “Love Actually” 20 million times.
If you’re creating this moment for your brand, it won’t land with your customer. Sure, think about what you want to say, but more importantly, think about what they want to share. As Taylor explains, “If you make it about you… then the conversation is going to end there because they don’t want to propagate that message. They want to be the hero.”
When reading articles, if you come across something well written, informative, and engaging, you’ll probably share it out on your feed. The same phenomenon is true during an unboxing experience. What is the thing your customers will want to post or send to friends? You are actually creating for your audience’s audience.
“You are trying to equip your customer to say something about themselves to the world.”Taylor Holiday, Managing Partner at Common Thread Collective
When you do this well, you create an organic flywheel strategy, where your customers turn other people into customers. They spread the joy they feel when they unbox your product, and their authentic excitement brings in more brand awareness.
Taylor encourages brands to get creative with the infinite possibilities. “Don’t think of it just as a cost center,” he warns. When you make a memorable moment for your customers, you’re investing in the relationship.
Be Your Employee’s Hero
In the same vein, Taylor advises brands to invest in their employees. But not for the sake of making them better and more efficient at their company jobs—rather, to empower them to follow their dreams.
To bring this mission to life, Common Thread Collective started the Tell Me Your Dreams program. Each employee identifies a dream, declares it to the company, and then receives support to go after it. First, employees meet with a licensed therapist to help determine their dream. The first Monday of every month is a “Dream Day,” where they stand up and share with the company. Finally, employees are put in the right pursuit groups to help them achieve their dream.
The program was built on the premise that the relationship between a company and its employees should be symbiotic. Taylor explains, “If I’m going to ask you to come and work for me… for the sake of my mission that I’ve established as the most important thing of my life, I should be willing to ask you the same thing.”
Lots of companies are concerned with treating the symptom—preventing turnover—instead of addressing the root cause—employee experience and support. While some employees may stay at a company for their entire career, it’s likely that most will work at several. Focusing on maximizing the time an employee and company share improves the outcome for both.
“If every day you show up to work you feel like you are closer to becoming the person that you want to be, who you’re going to be at my company while you’re there is going to be the best version of you,” said Taylor.
“Viewing employees as cost centers will be the same sort of ideology and mental approach that will make you view your unboxing experience as a cost center, instead of seeing them both as having the potential to create value in excess of their costs.”Taylor Holiday, Managing Partner at Common Thread Collective
But doesn’t losing employees come at a cost, just like paying more to create an unboxing experience? Well, sure it does. But the intention behind that cost ultimately creates a stronger brand and company—an effect that pays off in dividends. As Taylor says, “The environment that you’re forced to create to maintain [great people] is actually something that makes you better as a company.”
A Lot to Unpack (Unbox)
30 years later, Taylor still remembers finding a stick of gum in a packet of baseball cards. “It was that bit of serendipity and unexpected delight that made it matter,” he shares. These days, the sky’s the limit for creating a memorable unboxing experience.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while you start planning.
Verve Coffee customers get freshly roasted, customized coffee delivered right to their door. In these boxes layout is key, and the package is arranged both safely and stylishly. Verve includes a cardboard separator to keep the beans from getting crushed and to protect the packaging. However, the separator doesn’t cover the beans, so they are front and center stage when the customer opens the box.
Check out a Verve Coffee unboxing video.
Brand the Box
Billie set out to eliminate the “pink tax,” and make simple, high quality shaving products for women. Their subscription boxes are branded in the best way—recognizable, bright, and refreshing. Billie extends brand imagery into every part of the box, from the bag holding the razor to the paper underneath it.
It doesn’t just stop with the visual. You can also bring voice to unboxing. Whether it’s inside the box flap, on a thank you card, or in an instruction manual, this is an opportunity to speak to your customer. Billie is humorous and approachable in their marketing, and adds this playful quip onto one of the bags.
Check out this Billie unboxing video.
Huel creates nutritionally complete meals from plant-based ingredients. With their first order, customers receive a starter pack of products as well as a protein shaker for mixing drinks. Not everyone owns a shaker, which prevents powder from clumping. Since Huel’s most popular product is powder, they offer a complimentary, branded add-on so customers can properly enjoy their shakes.
Check out this Huel unboxing video.
Communication Saves the Day
Okay, so you’re creating for your customers and considering your employees, an approach based in equal parts analysis and empathy. Taylor recommends bringing this same lens to scaling your company—focus your attention on the pieces and bring them together.
Most company departments work in silos, teams working towards one goal, but with different agendas and often a lack of information. For example, let’s say there’s a media buyer with a plan related to ROA (return on ad spend), but they’re not clued in on the product. Or the demand planning side of the business doesn’t have a relationship with the marketing team that’s actually creating the demand. Essentially, for an organization to run efficiently, there has to be communication across teams.
When you’re scaling fast and creating large amounts of product, you simply can’t afford to overlook challenges. Here’s where the analysis comes in—if a campaign doesn’t work and now you have 50,000 extra units, you need to connect the dots and work to understand what happened. Bring it back and look at the system.
Thinking Inside the Box
Taylor’s philosophy is grounded in thinking outside of the company’s needs. However, there is a time to reflect and think internally. Let’s say you’re unhappy with low LTV, and looking at the numbers trying to figure it out. Maybe you’ve designed a system to produce low LTV. As management consultant Dr. William Edwards Deming said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”
What does this mean? Well, it means that it doesn’t have to be a mystery. The process you’ve created is producing the outcome, and you can start your investigation there. Taking this perspective will truly empower your growth.
“Instead of being frustrated in externality, [accept] responsibility for the thing that you created, because that would also then give you the choice to recreate it.”Taylor Holiday, Managing Partner at Common Thread Collective
Thinking of business outcomes in a systems approach removes the confusion and provides a structure for analysis. “If you are willing to accept that your system is perfectly designed for the outcome that it is generating, it offers you so much optionality into improving and doing things better and different,” said Taylor.
Creating an amazing brand, product, and company all happen with the same core belief—a balance of internal and external reflection that empowers employees, delights customers, and redesigns systems. If we approach things with this perspective, nothing gets boxed in. As Taylor adds, “Creative, innovative thinking… in that place, there’s a lot of opportunity to do incredible things.”