Invite the Right One In When a Consumer Packaged Good becomes a service brand

According to legend, for a vampire to enter your home you must invite it in. In Thomas Alfredson’s masterful 2008 film, Let the Right One In, the adolescent vampire Eli stands at the threshold of her friend Oskar’s family’s apartment and makes it clear that she will not enter unless he invites her to do so. Oskar asks what would happen if she just came in. “Is there something in the way?” Eli doesn’t answer. Oskar attempts to coerce her with a simple gesture of his index finger. Eli remains still. When Oskar turns his entire body indicating she should enter, Eli reluctantly obliges. Almost immediately upon crossing the threshold her body begins to quake and blood pours forth from her ears, then her eyes and head. Oskar, seeing that Eli is in peril, rushes to embrace her and shouts, “You can come in.” Once his formal invitation is given Eli calms, and they each let their guard down. They become open and honest with each other, achieving an understanding essential to the outcome of the film and the rest of the characters’ lives.

Consumer Package Goods (CPG) have long sought entry into our homes. And historically we have not invited them in but rather initiated our experiences with these brands at a store shelf. We select a CPG, then add it with others into a cart. The contents of the cart are transferred into bags and then transported in groups back to our homes, where they are unpacked and placed again onto shelves. Our relationships with these brands are transactional. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. We may develop special affinity for some (in my home we have an unabashed fondness for Upton’s Naturals) but we generally don’t view ourselves as having relationships with them.

The marketing of CPGs is a fiercely competitive realm with $6 billion (, May 31, 2016) spent just in the digital arena last year. The advertising industry is always racing to stay on or ahead of the trends for marketing CPGs. Marketers swaddle their brands in “authenticity” and humor. They partner brands in sponsorships and alongside endorsers. They position them as modern or old fashioned, high-tech or low-country. They deploy guerrilla tactics and the latest design trends. They initiate “moments of truth” and integrate social channels — all in an effort to convince customers to bring these goods, these brands, into their homes — and hopefully their lives.

Our relationships with traditional CPG brands are transactional. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

But what if the customer extends an invitation to the brand? What if consumers offer cordial entries into their homes? How does that change the relationship? How different are expectations for how the brand speaks to the customer? And if the customer schedules regular, recurring delivery of that brand is it now not a service rather than a good? A Consumer Packaged Service (CPS)?

A service brand is at its core different from a consumable packaged good. For one, services begin on the presumption of a relationship — a recurring delivery of a set of expectations. They tend to involve longer consideration. Decisions like where a person banks or which hospital one chooses or what college to attend involve greater deliberation than what cat litter a person brings home. These relationships are also less transitional. People will not change their bank or doctor the way they do their underwear. (Although their are now more than a dozen subscription underwear services, including the newest endeavor EBY from celebrity Sofia Vergara.)

As invited guests, Consumer Packaged Services may have other distinct marketing advantages. Do customers consider themselves members in their communities or clubs? An early pioneer in the space, Dollar Shave Club, bills itself as just that. Do their customers think of themselves as members? If so, then do these brands share similar emotional space with the customers’ gym or favorite cultural institution? And if we are now in an emotional space shared with theatre communities and museums, might the brands be able to ask things of their “members” the way other brands could never of their customers?

Do customers consider themselves members in CPS communities or clubs?

Does the permission granted these brands allow them to speak to their customers in more transparent voices? Does it liberate product and packaging design from concerns with retail shelf space and to purely pursue affinity?

Over the next few months a merry band of 88ers will be bringing their personal perspectives and experiences to bear on these questions and others. We pride ourselves in expertly marketing service brands. To be honest, we get a bit geeked out over the subject. And we’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time examining how millennials — currently the largest spending generation — engage with service brands. We’ll look at whether this group views CPS as memberships or merely subscriptions. We’ll dive into the ways CPS message and upsell from within consumers’ own bathrooms and kitchens. And how this newly utilized channel for consumer brands has them positioning themselves not just against their competition, but also often against their entire category.

(This is the first in a series of pieces in which 88 Brand Partners will examine the marketing of a brand as it evolves from a good to a service.)