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Packaging: 'selling off the shelf.' (guidelines for designing software packaging that bolsters sales)

"To put it simply," says merchandising strategist Seymour Merrin, "a package should be as subtle or cute as Attila the Hun coming over the rise." That point pretty well sums up a major transformation that's taken place in the look and feel of mainstream software packaging. In place of elegant, abstract box designs, the new packaging model is typically hard-selling, graphically strong, and designed (in Merrin's words) to "sell off the shelf."

There's no mystery about what's driving this packaging revolution: The new boxes simply attract more customers. For example, says Merrin, a packaging overhaul boosted sales of Seiko's Label Printer by "an immediate 40%." "Nothing else changed," he adds, "same product, same price, same spot on the shelf." Not surprisingly, strong packaging also helps brand-new products achieve quicker visibility--witness Hewlett-Packard's Dashboard utility, another Merrin-inspired package that racked up sales of 120,000 units in its first five months in the channel.

Merrin argues that the new packaging primarily reflects a change in retail demographics. "The average personal computer owner has used a machine for five years," says Merrin. "We're now overwhelmingly in an aftermarket." As a result, he says, buyers tend to be experienced and confident enough to make final buying decisions based in large part on information that a product conveys about itself--"just like in any traditional packaged goods industry."

Moreover, says Merrin, these buyers have been flocking in record numbers to retail superstores. "There are four million people every month walking up and down the aisles of computer stores, ready to buy something. Getting these buyers to see your package is usually the single best marketing investment anyone can make."

What makes a package "sell off the shelf"? Merrin says there are several critical guidelines:

* Include a strong, prominent "why-to-buy" message: A good package instantly communicates the product's primary benefit and positioning in a "succinct, catchy, and compelling phrase," says Merrin. "It tells a customer why he should buy your product and why your product is better than your competitor's." Often, the why-to-buy message is the most conspicuous graphical element on the box--for instance, Stacker's "Double Your Disk Capacity," Grammatik's "The Easiest Way to Improve Your Writing," and Quicken's "Fastest and Easiest Way to Manage Home & Business Finances." Good why-to-buy messages focus on the product's value to the customer, Merrin adds, not on features that the developer thinks should be important. Awards, special pricing, bonus features, and endorsements and other "value-enhancing" statements are also effective why-to-buy messages, he adds.

Merrin points out that subtle taglines and vague-sounding positioning statements are no substitute for a real why-to-buy message. "Customers should not have to work to understand your message, and most won't bother to."

* Don't overpromote company and product names: Unless a brand name is so well established that it becomes the best reason to buy a product (and even then, "such positioning is weak and easy to counter," Merrin warns), company logos and product names shouldn't be treated as a prominent part of the package's overall design. And it's not a good idea to use valuable graphical space just to build up recognition of a low-visibility company name. "The sole business purpose of a package is to create a customer," Merrin warns.

* Include just enough information to close the sale: Buyers will rely on the package for detailed information about the product's performance and features, Merrin points out, but there's also a risk that lengthy sales copy will raise an issue that provides some customers with a reason not to buy. One good approach is to focus on selling points that other products in the same category also stress. "For all players except the market leader," he suggests, "the best strategy is to counter each of the key performance characteristics listed on your biggest competitors' boxes with a self-serving point on yours."

* Make the box eye-catching: "Most customers cruise down the aisle about three or four feet from the shelves," Merrin points out. So a good package design will seem to stand out when viewed from that distance or even further, especially next to rival products on the same shelf. But avoid odd-shaped and odd-sized boxes, he cautions, because they're easily damaged and often don't fit on shelves.

(Another Merrin tip: Place the strongest graphical and why-to-buy elements on the bottom third of the package front, because many stores--particularly Egghead--display software on angled shelves that often obscure the top part of the box.)

* Avoid abstract graphics: Says Merrin: "If an unsophisticated buyer cannot figure out what the product is just by glancing at the package, scrap the design and start over."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Soft-letter
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Date:Mar 5, 1993
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