You Wouldn’t Put the Wrong Info on Packaging, So Why Do It Online?

Whether a brand sells muffin mix or luxury sports cars, the accuracy of its digital product information can make or break the sale—but for the muffin mixes of the world, the stakes are actually much higher.

CPG brands rely on the continual loyalty of their customers to buy their products day after day, week after week, and with the proliferation of smartphones, a large part of the consideration process is happening online.

If consumers research a product online and find inconsistent, inaccurate, or disjointed information where they were expecting reliability, clarity, and transparency, they’ll go from in-market to ‘no thanks’ in a trice.

Brands have a fairly short window to build trust. If you’re standing in an aisle in front of a muffin mix display with your phone (not sure why I’m harping on muffin mix; I must be hungry) and you either can’t find more information about the product online or there’s a disconnect between what you’re reading on your device and what you’re seeing on the shelf—or worse, you scan something with your phone and see “page not found”—you’re likely to move onto something else. There’s no lack of muffin mix brands in the world. According to research from GS1, 40% of shoppers said they wouldn’t buy a product if they didn’t trust the digital product information they read online—so there you go.

“As marketers we’ve trained consumers to expect perfection,” says Steve Cole, CMO of Gladson, a company that helps brands get their digital product info ducks in a row. “Whether we go to an e-commerce site to buy something immediately or we do online research and make a mental note for the next time we’re in a store, we’re trained to expect that we’ll have all the information we’ll need at our fingertips.”

Part of the problem is logistics. Who’s responsible for keeping all that information up-to-date? Marketing surely has enough to do already.

“A lot of companies are going through an evolution making that decision and haven’t quite figured out who owns the digital assets for product information being used by retailers,” Cole says. “It seems to fall somewhere between marketing, the product people, operations, the supply chain folks, and sometimes even a digital agency.”

With so many people involved—and so many siloed departments contributing their little piece to the whole—it’s like a massive game of digital product info telephone. Even some big brands aren’t on the stick.

“Some leading companies out there are only active in managing probably their top five or 10 retailers and the rest of the work is being done by interns and through pencil-and-paper systems,” Cole says. “It’ll improve over time, but it does require companies to transform what’s been a very analog system into a continuously governed, high-quality one.”

Marketers can pooh-pooh this aspect of the path-to-purchase as outside their purview, but to me it seems like something they should actively own. An inconsistent digital presence erodes trust and band value—exactly what brands spend untold amounts of effort working to foster.

Cole refers to it as a “battle for brand loyalty.”

“Marketers are spending hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars, to establish brand loyalty, and this directly undermines that spending,” he says. “If you can’t deliver in the last five feet when the shopper shows up in front of the shelf, looks at a package, and thinks, ‘This isn’t what I saw online,’ then the whole thing breaks down.”

It’ll require work—you need to create the content, gather hi-res images, update them when necessary, and develop a clear distribution channel—but it’ll be worth your while. You can’t build a house without a foundation—and you can’t sell muffin mix without information.

“If you buy a Super Bowl ad, say, and you spend $100,000 on it, you darn well better be sure that when I pick up my iPad and look for more information about your revolutionary breakfast cereal, or whatever it is, online, it looks the same on my iPad as it will in the store,” Cole says. “If I go to the store and what I see is different from what I expect to see, that runs counter to all the effort marketers are putting into awareness and building brand loyalty.”

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