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Leverage package design to sell on the Web

Though the right package may be on store shelves, the equities expressed there often come up short online. Create synergy between the store and the Web for increased sales.
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Why is it that so often after a package is printed, nothing of what's been learned from the design process is shared with other facets of the product's marketing and promotion efforts?

It's true that both package and Web design occur on the fringes of marketing operations—with packaging on accelerated timelines prior to the rest of the marketing mix, and Web implementation held hostage by its information technology (IT) underpinning. But this shouldn't preclude leveraging years of analysis and refinement of the art of package design when distribution channels include Web retailing.

Effectively applying a package designer's expertise to the Web could lead to higher sales and customer satisfaction for retailers and brands alike.

To help draw shoppers to the right offering, package designers use graphics, colors, and other visual cues to organize families of products for maximum billboard and shoppability. Once these elements have been created for the package design, equal care should be taken to extend these brand equities to the Web. The following example from Kodak illustrates practical application of this thinking.

The three packages in this example represent three groups of digital picture frames. Designers used color to establish the groups: white for entry-level, gray for all models designed to fit most existing picture frames, and black for the premium tier-wireless models made for sharing. When viewed at point-of-sale, consumers know at-a-glance that Kodak offers more than one variety of digital picture frame, enticing them to look closer.

Once we've got the consumer's attention in the traditional store, each package must deliver a concise, well-targeted message of benefits and features to compete head-to-head with rivals at point-of-sale. To do this, package designers prioritize information by panel, with the face panel most important for key communications. Better package design systems establish a visual "architecture" by placing related information (like screen size) in the same area of each package. Consistency of placement helps shoppers quickly evaluate similarities or differences within the product line.

Packaging's secondary panels offer more details, expanding on both differentiating and shared features. They complete the package's role as the "silent salesman" to the consumer. For example, though all three packages feature Kodak's proprietary Color Science technology to enhance picture display, only the entry-level P family features it on the face panel. The higher-tier groups include this information on secondary panels (top and back), leaving valuable face-panel real estate for differentiating key messages.

How does this approach to brand communications extend to the Web? First, we need to understand what often goes wrong when synergizing package- and Web-based branding messages.

Forgetting all we've learned

One of the first mistakes made in online retailing is the stripping away of colors and graphics established in package communications when displaying products. This eliminates shoppers' ability to quickly sort through the product line visually, instead forcing them to read and remember as they shop through various Web pages.

The second mistake relates to the overall display of product. Mass retailers too often abandon all aspects of the retail experience on their Web sites. This shortcoming virtually removes all products from their respective boxes, adding to the confusion and limiting the company's ability to effectively guide shoppers through the various offerings in the category.

Web sites of national brands follow the store's lead. This is an even bigger mistake because they've worked hard enough to get the traffic shopping their site directly, where they could have much more control. When a shopper visits a brand's Web site, it should be a golden opportunity to sell up by clearly communicating product differences and highlighting upgraded features and performance in a strategic way.

Why do these mistakes happen? How can big brands and retailers alike abandon all they've learned over decades of retailing to consumers when selling in their online stores? It's simple. They're being held hostage by the demands of inflexible IT departments operating in "silos," independent of branding and marketing. Virtual retail shelves are stocked by databases. Databases are places of simple order. The more uniform the data, the better. All products are represented by data: a silhouetted product photo, a name, three bullets of copy, and a price.

Making a better transition

Usually first out the door because of long production lead times, packaging assets are available for marketing managers to use across all communications. Product photo images tend to be very high quality and can be shared across all media. Likewise, key features, illustrated photographically with short benefit copy written for multilingual adaptation, are easily reused in Web and other communications.

So once marketing managers gain access to these packaging assets and communications priorities, how can they use them to make the online shopping experience easier? The following examples represent a holistic approach.

Start by building a virtual end cap. Yes, that most coveted space in a brick-and-mortar store is virtually free to the brand on its own site, and it should be much better managed by major online retailers on theirs. Perhaps Amazon.com can be forgiven for having no brick-and-mortar history, but surely other retailers can do better than they do now, where even featured products are displayed in the raw, database-optimized form.

The accompanying screen capture shows a virtual end cap for Kodak's digital frames. Color Science technology is featured at the top because it is common to all frame products, and it is a proprietary asset reinforcing a claim to superiority over competitors. The technology is demonstrated in a dramatic way, using animation to transform a picture before the shopper's eyes. This approach is much more dynamic than the side-by-side comparison on a package, and it truly maximizes the benefits of marketing communications on the Web. It also can be used for time-sensitive promotions or other calls-to-action, such as virtual blue-light specials. These tactics can convert shoppers into buyers on the spot.

Below the display on the Kodak screen capture are the three product segments, briefly explained in a field of color mimicking the packaging system. All key images also have been reused, forcing the viewer to notice the group of girls sharing the portable model because it is so different than the other two. This is critical in helping shoppers discover features they might not be expecting—but might be willing to pay more for—such as wireless technology and rechargeable, battery-powered operation.

A click on any group becomes a virtual "look at the box." Face-panel information displays first, followed by side- and back-panel information, which is revealed when scrolling down the page. Like the approach on the virtual end cap, key features can be represented with graphic elements from package images that can be animated or clicked on for more details.

After a shopper decides on the type of product desired, a "see all" or other action button reveals the full line of similar products. This sequence of events helps shoppers find the perfect version of the desired product, based on available sizes or other shared-but-variable features or specifications. No longer does the shopper have to wonder if there's another version available that might be more perfect. As a result, shoppers gain a better understanding of the products and more confidence in their purchase selection as they head to the "checkout lane."

Checkout is where accessories and consumables should be displayed, just like with checkout at a brick-and-mortar store. Don't forget this golden opportunity to get the easy add-on sale or merchandise specially priced bundles that might be available only online. This is critical for brand sites, when they have the opportunity, especially with more retailers offering private-label product alternatives.

About the author: Jim Forward is president of Forward Branding & Identity, www.forwardbranding.com.

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