Charm is a great tool for any retailer. In our last blog, we saw how it can be an effective tool to impress bloggers. But, where you really want to turn on the charm is with your customers during the holiday season. Bur rather than you doing all the talking, why not let your products speak for themselves? In today’s blog, we’ll see how you can use photography and product packaging to really entice your customers into making your line up their first choice for gifting during the holiday season.
Lights. Camera. Action.
When you look at the websites of major online retailers during the holiday season, the first thing to grab your eye is the clean look they achieve with every product shoot and the attention to detail on each product, no matter how small or cheap. With the huge access to tech we all have today, getting super-professional results doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Here are some simple tips you can follow to make your product line pop off the webpage on your site:
Gear up, but not too much
You need to choose your gear based on what you plan to shoot. Don’t go overboard with lenses and camera bodies. Remember this is still just a product shoot. Not National Geographic! A good place to start is with a mid zoom as then allow you to set up in one spot and then just zoom in. We also recommend getting a tripod because handheld can get tiring and tiring equals blurry after a while. When it comes to lenses, try go for one around f/35 or less. This will help blur out your background and compensate if your lighting isn’t great.
Skip the background, stick to white
We’ve all seen these awesome product shots on Instagram where the product is made to fit into a pristine natural surrounding – maybe a tree, on a wooden table, up against a red brick wall. These shots are the exception and not the rule for two reasons:
- On Instagram, these pictures are a one-off and hence are easy to look at. But on your site, if every product sits against a different background, it will be a big visual distraction.
- It’s easy to find an appropriate background if you only have one or two products. But if you have multiple lines, you’ll quikcly run out of ‘natural’ surroundings to place them in. The result will be multiple products shot in awkward looking locations like this!
Try using a long white sheet of paper to create an ‘infinity backdrop’ look or use white pieces of cardboard to create a mini light box. Alternatively, you can also use black to offset any bright colored items. For the holidays, you can accentuate your product shoot with a few holiday themed items but make sure they don’t distract from the product itself.
Use bright lights, but in moderation
There’s a fine line between “Damn, I can’t even see it” and “well, what is it anyway?” Using too much light leads to a washed out effect on your product while too little light obscures the uniqueness (or even the shape) of your product. When you light your product, aim for moderation. Choose a mix of ambient and synthetic lights. Try to ensure your product doesn’t develop any shadows (you can use a flash to fix this problem) and doesn’t look bigger or smaller than it actually is.
First frame, then aim
Just because you’ve got a fancy digital camera, doesn’t mean you should take dozen of shots of each product and just slap every high-res one on your website. Instead take a minute to compose the shot before you click. Try to keep it simple, stay on the same angle and zoom in as much as possible. Also, avoid shooting from any angle which might distort the product or make it hard for the viewer to understand what they’re looking at.
Aim for the product, blur the background
When you shoot against a background (even just a plain white one), you want it to be out of focus just enough for your product to shine through. To achieve this effect, place your product just a bit in front of the background and set your camera to the widest aperture to absorb as much light as possible. This way, especially against a white background, your product gets a halo effect from the background and really shines out.
Start on the camera, end on the computer
Shooting the right images is only half the process when you’re trying to nail a good product shoot. Once you transfer your images to the computer, you get a sense for some of the finer things you may have missed or just not been able to capture – a bit of dust on the product, a small shadow in the corner, a flash spot. Luckily, with the help of technology, you no longer have to reshoot to correct these tiny imperfections. Using the right software, you can fix and even enhance each image and have it looking perfect for your catalogue.
The Sale Lies in the Detail
Photos alone are no guarantee of a sale. Without the right mix of shots, you could end up telling only half the product story. Also remember, when customers buy online, the product shots are filling in for their ability to pick up and examine your product carefully to their satisfaction. But this doesn’t mean overloading your website with images either, at the risk of ruining the mobile browsing experience. With that in mind, here are a few tips on getting the finer details right, after you’ve taken the right shots:
Sell it from every angle
Photographs don’t just act as stand-ins for the real product. They carry with them vital visual information, which customers need to evaluate before they can make a decision. This includes decisions about color, size, weight, fit and even just general aesthetics. At a minimum, you should offer at least two views of the product (a front and side view). But research shows, the ideal number for e-commerce product images is around four views or five views. Any more and you risk annoying your customers.
Replicate the in-hand experience
There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to inspect a product from all angles in your hand. But replicating this would involve dozens of photos per product. What you can do instead is offer a 360-degree view of your product using multiple shots merged into one seamless gif image. This allows customers to thoroughly investigate your product and make a purchase decision only when they are fully satisfied.
Every colour and style needs highlighting
If you make a product in 16 colours and 10 textures, don’t imagine people will be able to visualize what your product will look like in every variant. Instead, take the time to photograph each variant and present it visually. Chances are once a customer sees your product in one specific variant; it might be all they need to convince them to buy your product.
Let customers pour over details
Some products always require a closer inspection for varying reasons. For instance, clothing needs finer inspection to examine texture and color. Handcrafted products need to be examined to inspect the finish. Even items that have been produced with a mould or through 3-D printing need to be examined for consistency. By taking high resolution pictures of your products, you allow customers to zoom in and get a clear idea of what they are about to buy and assure themselves your products are of the highest quality and free from defects.
If you tell it, let the pictures sell it
This is a simple rule of thumb. If you mention it in a tag line or in the product description, back up that information in at least on of the product pictures. For instance, if you describe how many pockets a bag has, show the pockets – from as many angles as necessary. This allows the customer to get a good sense of what your product could look like in a variety of situations and helps them imagine it as a part of their daily lifestyle.
Don’t Forget the Brand while Chasing Sales
While it is imperative to push for sales as much as you can during the holiday season, you must remember this quote “People don’t buy products. They buy brands”. If your sales rocket but it leaves your brand coming across as a pushy one, or worse still an ordinary off-the-shelf one, you may win the battle. But you’ll lose the war. To keep this from happening to your brand, here are some simple tips:
Make consistency a priority
This may sound like an antithesis – how can you stand out and still stay consistent? Well, you can do it by aiming to stand apart from your competition but maintaining an internal standard of excellence and consistency. These include factors such as magnification, lighting, background and number of images per product. You might need to vary the number of images per product in case you have products of vastly varying sizes or types. But by and large try to stick with a set number.
Take the time to create style sheets
While your product images need to pop, they also have to be consistent across your online catalog. This is where a bit of creative direction comes in. To ensure your images have a consistent tone and manner, you need to create a style sheet. This sheet needs to include details such as your preferred background for different types of products and the minimum and maximum lighting requirements. Also, if you have a preference or need a product shot from a particular angle every single time, make a note of this as well. The idea behind style sheets is that it frees you to outsource product imaging, without worrying about wild variations in the results.
Start building a brand image
Your product catalogue is not just a series of photographs. It is a collage that ultimately represents your personal brand. While it won’t happen overnight, you need to aim for a level of color, image and lighting consistency that can be replicated for every product you shoot. That way, when people browse the web looking for products you offer, your brand will be able to stand out from the competition and become a visual mnemonic that is recognized and accepted as one to trust.
Moving from Visual to Tactile
Once you have your product photography worked out, the next thing to imagine is the delivery of the product itself. And one of the key aspects of delivery is the packaging. If you’ve walked down the aisles of your local grocery store recently, you’ll see packaging as an industry keeps growing exponentially. And if someone cares enough about biscuits to invest in over 30 unique designs for packaging, surely you must see the importance of focusing your energy on getting packaging right for your product. Having said that, let’s dive a little deeper into the subject, shall we?
Start with What You Don’t Know
It’s easy to make assumptions about packaging based on one’s personal tastes. But while stark minimalism may appeal to you, perhaps your customers expect a little more energy and colour in their packaging, especially around the holiday season. Here are a few ways to keep assumptions at bay and prevent making a potentially expensive mistake this holiday season:
Research your customers
A good place to start is by observing your customers. Notice how long they spend with each item. Look for which items they are visually drawn to. Notice if they circle back around to certain items. Based on these factors, you’ll be able to make your first educated guesses on what kind of packaging will appeal to the customer. Also be sure to ask yourself if a certain product package is meant to bring new business or promote loyalty to your store.
Accept feedback from potential consumers
You may not have the budget (or the need, really) to set up a physical focus group just to test out your packaging designs. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek multiple opinions outside the limited set of people who have visited your store or purchased from you online. To do this, you can use services such as Survey Money to get quick results to key questions. Of course, what is a good ‘key question’? While there is no universal answer on this, there are a few things you should steer clear of. For starters, be careful not to lead the questioning towards an answer you would like to hear. Also, try to avoid friends and family from your survey. Their answers may be helpful, but they might also be too polite to tell you the truth. Your mission is to get objective feedback which you can put into action when designing your packaging.
Don’t forget to scope out the competition
This may seem like a no-brainer (few things ever are when selling) but it pays to research your competition and even the overall category you’re selling into. Look for what has worked (and not worked) in the category over the last few years during the holiday season. What was their primary focus – Design? Portability? Durability? Now reexamine your choices and see which areas you need to improve on. Think about how your product will be displayed. Think of whether your packaging will help the product survive a fall or mishandling. And most importantly, during the holiday season how easy is your product to ship with the new packaging.
Build a Story, Not Just a Box
Good packaging is more than just an outer layer to peel through to get to your product. If done well, it can tell its own story, enhance the story around the product and if you are really creative, good packaging can even turn into its own product.
Take the consumer on a journey
If you consider your product your hero, then the marketing behind it is the story of that hero. And the book which carries this story to your customers is the packaging. To make sure this story is compelling, you need to study your competition’s stories told through their packaging so that you don’t repeat a story the customer has heard before or too often (think of the how words like “handmade”, “fine craftsmanship”, “unique” have become packaging cliches). Your packaging needs to tell a strong story that is both creative yet concise.
Build a 2-second shelf story
This may sound harsh but customers really don’t spend as much time as you imagine looking at your product. In fact, it’s usually just a pithy two seconds before their attention shifts focus on to something else. And with the flurry of items screaming for their attention during the holiday season, this attention deficit only gets worse. Which means you need to pick a few key images and words to convey your product’s unique selling points. Your focus is to get the customer to pick up your product so that you have a few more minutes to convince them with a fuller story.
Keep the name simple
This can be a particularly touchy subject. Naming a product is often a polarizing choice. You may be set on a name that resonates with you but may be hard to pronounce. Our advice? Ditch it. When naming your product, we suggest sticking to these simple rules a) Make sure it’s easy to pronounce. b) Make sure it fits easily on the packaging without cluttering up the design. c) Make it (as much as you can) memorable. If you choose to rename a few of your products around the holiday season, don’t get too clever with it.
Getting Down to the Brass Tacks
After all the research and planning, there’s still one last step involved – building the actual packaging itself. While this may seem like a straightforward job, it can prove to be the most complex part of it all. So to simplify the process, here’s some key considerations to bear in mind:
Learn to think in colour
Colour can be a powerful tool, which can vastly influence both perception and buying choices. When choosing colours around the holiday season, don’t just stick with the traditional red and green palette. Use colours complimentary to the season such as blue or white. And don’t be afraid to use your brand colours in conjunction with the holiday theme.
Build a focal point in the packaging
Your packaging has to stand out not just on your shop shelf, but on shared shelves (if you have a kiosk at other retail stores) and especially online. When a customer browses for a product during the holiday season, both online and offline, he is met with a rainbow of colour and shapes. You need to create a distinct focal point, which is instantly recognizable and unmistakeable for any other similar product.
Go for a handmade look
The holiday season brings with it a flood of packaged goods that are so similar in look and feel; you might imagine they all came off the same assembly line in some mega-factory. To get past this ubiquity, try to incorporate a handmade look into your packaging. Even if you can’t actually create something handmade, if you offer a handmade look, it can often provide enough visual relief to draw a customer’s attention and get them to pick it up.
Get creative with materials and shapes
Remember, at the end of the day, packaging is meant to be tactile. Which means you need to focus on the in-hand experience as much as possible. Think of whether your product needs to have packaging that fits to its shape or perhaps it could live inside another shaped pack. Does your packaging have texture? Is it easy to pick up?
Build in functionality if possible
Customers like packaging that’s functional because of its added value, says Marianne Rosner Klimchuk, professor and associate chairwoman of the packaging design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Rather than create more waste, is there a way your packaging can be up-cycled once the product is removed?
Skip assumptions. Hire a designer.
With all this information at the ready, you might be tempted to assume you could just start designing your product packaging itself. And who knows, if you have access to a 3D printer, even make it yourself. But don’t. Good designers bring more to the process than just information. They come with the unique ability to blend their knowledge of colour, fonts and imaging into one cohesive design. They come with the experience of past projects and know what will and won’t work. But most of all, they have a specific sense of creativity which when allowed to flourish can take your product to the next level in both aesthetics and desirability.
In our next blog, we’ll look at how to push your well-designed product through the marketing maze of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For now, remember that building a product is only part of the process. How your product looks and how its packaging feels helps people decide if your product is worth buying. So remember to give both these tasks the attention they deserve.