Is It Time to Think 'Online First' for Packaging?

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Matt Bennett
Matt Bennett



online-shoppingAmazon opened its online doors in 1995. In six months of operations, it posted net sales of $511,000.

Now took to 2014: Online retail sales worldwide are expected to hit $1.5 trillion. Clearly, in the intervening years, how consumers shop and make purchase decisions changed drastically. Yet, most of the attention that goes to packaging – the most direct representation of the brand – still goes to the printed package that sits on physical shelves in-store.

There are many reasons why this is still the case, but it doesn’t change the fact that brand, marketing, and supply chain leaders are missing opportunities and taking unintended risks.

To get your share of a rapidly expanding ecommerce market, marketers need to provide customers with an experience online that’s as true as possible to the product they choose at the physical store shelf. It’s time to regain control of the way your brand is depicted on the digital shelf.

Brands that assert control stand to reap several advantages:

  • Greater agility and speed in executing design changes online
  • Greater efficiency and cost control
  • Greater brand consistency
  • Greater product information accuracy
  • Meeting or exceeding current packaging regulations

Asserting control of the brand requires that brand owners gain control of the process of content development and content management. Here's how you can create an online experience that mirrors the offline.

Audit the Brand Online

You might ask yourself, “Is this really necessary?” Have you audited your brand’s presence on the digital shelf recently? If not, examine product packages and information across multiple sites – from online retail giants, to smaller niche retailers, to product review websites. You may be surprised to see:

  • Outdated product images
  • Images that don’t represent final approved artwork
  • Missing or incorrect data, ingredients, nutrition information, and allergen alerts
  • Limited product views
  • Inconsistent or inaccurate color
  • Low resolution and poor image quality

If you do find these problems, you’re not alone. But why does this happen? Probably because digital is still nascent, and brand managers haven’t always held the digital shelf to the same high standards as the physical shelf. But that’s got to change. Consumers are buying online and using online to learn about products. And that’s only going to increase.

Overcome Fragmented Processes

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for brands is that inside giant corporations, there is no one single person accountable for packaging online content. It’s often split by brand between individuals in different departments as well as among a variety of external suppliers.

Even assuming brand owners use a digital asset library, they often don’t have 3D images of packages or the multiple 2D panel shots depicting product information. And if they do, it’s usually been created through a conventional photography process that eats up six-to-eight weeks, costs more, and opens up this part of the supply chain to risk. And this happens every time a design is refreshed or ingredients change or a new packaging regulation requires compliance — it's vicious cycle.

Synchronize Control Between Online and Print

This is precisely why brand owners must have a workflow solution that allows them to synchronize control of their ecommerce images. And the best way to do that is to develop digital brand content in tight integration with the same workflows used to create and manage artwork for the physical package. Brands can unify the digital content supply chain around their existing, proven processes to achieve substantial savings and gain control over the brand’s representation online. This way, they can avoid the brand disconnect that can occur (and all the associated risks) when previous-generation images remain on the digital shelf after the newest version of the package has reached physical store shelves.

The digital package can then be elevated to the same high standard by creating images directly from the final, approved master artwork file for the physical package – including complete views of all required informational elements. Only in this way can brands ensure the product as it appears on the digital shelf is never preliminary, incomplete, variable, or untrustworthy. Without control of the process you do not deliver value or reap the benefits of speed, cost, efficiency, quality, and regulatory compliance. Control the process, and you will control the benefits.

Get Ahead of Packaging Regulations

The focus on only the printed package includes a hidden risk. The EU Regulation 1169 requires extensive labeling changes to clearly disclose nutrition and allergen information. These disclosures must also be made online, where consumers have no choice but to trust the digital representation of the product. This hasn't occured yet in the U.S, but it’s always a possibility. With forthcoming FDA regulations requiring changes to the nutrition label to emphasize calories, provide realistic serving sizes, and align with the latest nutrition science, it represents an opportunity to “get ahead” of regulations.

Market Faster — Online

When a brand or marketing leader makes a design change to a package, it’s already been invested in as a business solution to build the brand’s share. It should be executed consistently online and offline to exploit market potential. A conventional workflow that depends on the completion of the printed package, photography, and retouching typically leads to delays, leaving marketers without online product images when the product is launched. This costly delay is repeated with each new artwork change. Not only are marketers missing an opportunity, but they’re paying for the “privilege” to do so. With an all-digital workflow, when the new mechanical artwork is approved for packaging, it triggers packaging content for online sales. And in a few days, before the product even hits store shelves, but when it’s ready to ship, marketers can be ready to sell online.

Take Control of Online Content Development and Management

The conclusion couldn’t be more clear. The opportunities are substantial for brands that take control of their presence on the digital shelf – now, not later.

With an online retailing market that’s expected to hit $1.5 trillion, you have to wonder, what’s everyone waiting for? The digital shelf can no longer be relegated to second place status. Brand and marketing leaders have heard the phrase “mobile first” being kicked around for the past year or so. Surely that begs the question: Is it time to consider the online shelf first?

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