Creating Great Online Product Content: Think Visually First.
(This is part three of our five-part guide, Creating Great Online Product Content: Five Secrets the Pros Know.)
Update: we’ve come a long way since the dark days of 2016, when we originally wrote this piece. The sins covered below, such as a merchandising image that was clearly just taken from the packaging without regard for how it looks on a product page, are now extremely rare. We’re leaving this article up as a grim reminder of what things were once like.
Some organizations still think of a product’s packaging and print advertising as the heroes of the marketing mix. They’re not, any more. It’s the online content.
Let me explain.
You might hand off the product’s messaging brief to the copywriter just a few weeks before the product is announced, but the process of developing product content begins well before then.
This is because online product content has its own asset requirements for the visual elements — the product visuals and the illustrations.
We’ve seen companies whose approach to online content is that it can simply reuse the assets developed for packaging, in-store POS, and other print media. The result can be rich content that’s too copy-heavy, or (worse yet) with copy that’s written to match the set of available assets. In fact, it should be the other way around.
Let’s use an example of a product that has five key feature/benefit combinations, but goes into a retail package with room for only one product photo. Secondary messaging might be accompanied by icons or bullet points on the back, because there’s not enough packaging real estate to include additional photos.
On the web, you don’t have that limitation.
During the period when shot lists and artwork requirements are being built, you’re already doing this by thinking about the print media visually, and in fact you’re probably already looking at packaging mockups. But although your Amazon page and your product detail page on your own web site will have a much shorter lead time for deployment, you need to be thinking about the image assets you’ll need for them right now. This will make the difference between good content and truly great content.
This might mean additional shots for the photography list, or additional graphic design requests — assets which will only be used online. There may be some budgeting resistance to this notion, but remember that people who are shopping online will never see that package. Unless you’re in a highly commoditized product category where the significant majority of sales are at physical stores (such as selling milk), image assets for online merchandising are actually more important than the package. If this is already obvious to you, then great — but for many organizations which haven’t yet recognized the importance of world-class online content, it’s an alien concept. They think of the box as the hero, even as more and more of their sales happen online and even more and more evidence is presented that customers do their research and make final buying decisions before they set foot in a store.
Heroes and Sidekicks
In many product categories, the packaging isn’t the hero anymore. The online content is the hero. The box is its sidekick.
One thing we’ve seen too many times is repurposing assets. Let’s say that a product’s packaging contains a chart, graph, or other image that illustrates a key product point. For many companies who are still in the mindset of about five years ago, the approach to online content is simply to hand off the packaging artwork to the web producer and to ask them to extract the image. It can be really obvious when this happens. Design guidelines for print and the web are simply different. You’ll get an image that’s on a background that clashes with the rest of the online content, with type that’s too hard to read. It looked great on the packaging, which was designed in the realm of substrates and DPIs, with an entirely different design language. But on the reseller’s site, it simply looks like somebody cut corners.
This doesn’t mean that the web version of the illustration can’t have its genesis in the version originally created for print, but you need to allocate the resources of a qualified designer to rebuild it for the web, and not leave it to a web producer to do a simple copy and paste.
If your team has one of those Heinz Ketchup moments late in the go-to-market process, and there’s the last-minute need to design an online graphic for a newly hatched message or a feature or benefit that’s been promoted from tertiary to primary, your online content gets the chance to be particularly heroic, since you’ll get to launch your online deliverables with the latest assets. Even in a worse-case scenario where a product positioning epiphany happens too late to produce graphics for the online content, you can take a deep breath, launch with what you have, and update your web content as soon as you have the assets.
Meanwhile, the packaging? You won’t be able to get a revision into the channel for weeks or months.