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On building a better box.

ON BUILDING A BETTER BOX Last week, Delta Technologies began shipping a new version of Direct Access, its hard disk menu-management utility. Seven-year old Delta has quietly carved out a large piece of the PC-based menu-management niche, but--like many utility developers--Delata found that dealers and buyers often treated Direct Access as a commodity product. "Our old box got lost on retail shelves," says Sally McMillan, Delta's vice president of sales and marketing. "I'd go into an Egghead that carried our product and evenI couldn't find it."

This time, though, Direct Access is likely to grab a lot more attention. The reason: a dramatic new box design that looks significantly more professional than Delta's rivals. "For most of our competitors, packaging is clearly not something they pay much attention to," McMillan says.

Creating the new Direct Access box wasn't an easy process, McMillan concedes--and it wan't cheap, either. Last summer, afte shopping around for a new design firm, Delta hired Boston-based DRK Inc., a small agency whose ads for software clients had impressed McMillar. DRK was asked to create a package design that could serve several distinct functions: to explain the product quickly, to "leap off the shelf," and to suggest Delta's leadership position in its category.

DRK ended up proposing three designs. One looked like a miniature Coke machine (suggesting push-button ease of use), a second looked like an airline ticket, and a third was a more conventional design with an illustration of a shaft of energy cutting through a maze.

Initially, the Coke machine--which McMillan calls "a damn clever design"--looked like the clear winner. But when McMillan tested the design on resellers and ran an informal focus group of users and computer novices, she found unexpected resistance. "I started to see that the design might look good on a retail shelf, but it was almost too clever for corporate buyers, who might wonder if we were serious enough."

So DRK was told to proceed with the more conservative design (the airline ticket design was an early dropout). The next major obstacle was creating copy that adequately explained the product. With DRK's help, McMillan settled on a tag line that was displayed conspicuously on all six faces of the box: "The menu system that takes you straight to your programs." Again, she tested the tag line and even had mockups made that she tried out in a local dealer's store.

The descriptive text on the back of the box raised a new problem. "It had been two years since we'd done an upgrade, so our developers wanted to focus on what's new about the product," she says. "DRK pushed for an overview that emphasized basic ease of use and left out much of the technical mumbo-jumbo." The end result, she says, was a compromise with enough detail for technically-oriented buyers, but no mention of several hard-to-describe features that "really weren't primary benefits."

The entire design process, from brainstorming to final production mechanicals, took about six months to complete, McMillan says. The total bill for this work--including illustrations, copywriting, typesetting, and agency meetings--came to about $34,000 (printing added another $8,300). "It wasn't an easy step for us to spend this kind of money on marketing materials," she says. "The last time we did this kind of thing, we went out and hired a university student to do the artwork for a 7 brochure."

But McMillan is convinced that the new box design makes sense as part of the company's basic merchandising strategy. "Differentiating ourselves on the retail shelf is definitely part of the master game plan."

Sally J. McMillan, vice president of sales and marketing, Delta Technology International, 1621 Westgate Rd., Eau Claire, Wisc. 54703; 715/832-7575.
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Title Annotation:software packaging
Date:Mar 5, 1990
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