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Your product is a great product! It should be flying out of your warehouse into stores, and into the hands of the consumers. After all, you've put time, thought, and effort into crafting a quality product... but it's just not selling.

Despite doing everything right, something has gone horribly wrong. Your great product is sitting in your warehouse or on shelves as consumers walk by with at best a casual glance. Why?

The art of product design is a complicated one, but to put it bluntly, most of the complications are of human origin. It's like the old IT desk acronym for persistent problems at one workstation: PEBKAC.

Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair

If your product is having a hard time, you might want to ask yourself and your launch team a basic question: How does the product appeal to the consumer? Not to the design lead, not to the CEO, and not to the trade press or the bloggers. Unless they're all going to the local shopping center to buy it, you are not designing it for them.

There are many other questions to ask besides those regarding the product's appeal. To begin identifying possible problems with your product, pose these additional questions to yourself and to your team:

  • What is the target demographic? You can't design a product that pleases everyone. Examine, do research, and study the demographic before pursuing product development and marketing strategy.
  • How does the product appeal to your demographic's wants and needs? Your product has a great shot of success if it satisfies an unmet need; otherwise, it is just another product among millions.
  • What place and value will it have in consumers' lives? Products that inspire daily use over infrequent use facilitate a positive relationship with consumers.
  • How is your product vitally different than a similar product of a competing brand? Chances are dozens of similar products are already available. Identifying the unique features of your product helps it stand out.
  • Are those differences expressed on the packaging in a way that will prompt consumers to pick up the product for a closer look? Don't hide your best features; flaunt them on the packaging. Is it green? Organic? Fair Trade? Made in the USA? Stamp it on your packaging.
  • Is your product easy to get out of the packaging? No one likes a package that requires a team effort and use of additional tools to open it.

There is nothing wrong with pulling back an item and retooling the product itself, the marketing, or the branding. There is something wrong with a pile of goods not moving because nobody will say, "Well, the packaging isn't appealing and you need a synchronized chainsaw team to get it out of the blister packaging."

From the Retailer's Side

Nielsen Innovation Analytics says that there is no one-size-fit- all marketing strategy, but if you're thinking about how the consumer views your packaging, you may benefit by paying attention to the retailers that stock the product.

Retailers have limited shelf space. What they can do within the parameters of their displays, such as gondolas, slatwalls, and so on, are restricted.

  • Does your product fit on the shelves, hang easily on a slat wall display, or stack in a reasonable footprint? A retailer might love the packaging and love the product but pass on stocking it simply because of display or stockroom size limitations.
  • Is the package unique enough to differentiate it from competing products? If the product packaging is too similar, it's easy to pass Product X by when it looks like Product Y, and you already have Y on the shelves. This may also play into stockroom sizes; if a product similar to yours is already selling and space is limited, the retailer might not choose to stock competing brands.

Consumers Want Information

With a click, consumers can call up information on a product on their mobile devices while shopping. If they don't see something they like about it, they will click on something else. If you are already online—which all businesses should be—make sure product information is easily accessible via your site. Highlight your product differences on the packaging to give consumers a reason to seek more information and purchase your product.

If you've already gotten your product certified—Fair Trade, LEED, Organic—make sure you post it online. Exploit your unique selling position, and use that soapbox to inform the customer why you and your product are the smart choice.

Selling in the age of the Internet is less a one-way transaction than it is cultivating a relationship with your customers. In a cacophony of pitches, you have to be convincing—not loud.

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image of Amy Finn

Amy Finn is vice-president of Finn Industries, a folding carton and set-up box manufacturer located in Southern California.

LinkedIn: Amy Finn