A version of this article originally appeared in WWD on April 10th, 2018.
The greats of customer experience have broken down interactions between brands and customers into first, second, and beyond moments of truth, spanning both physical and digital. As any fashion or beauty marketer knows, each of these moments dictates how customers feel about your brand and influences their purchasing decisions. Color is the first impression of quality for your product. How can you ensure your color selection works hard for you at each moment of truth [MOT]?
Meet “Betty,” avid shopper and trend follower. Let’s unpack Betty’s moments of truth that lead to her purchasing decision to understand the roles that color and color consistency play.
Physical moments of truth
Shopping at her favorite store, Betty sees an item on the rack.
She thinks: “Do I like the color, texture, style of the sweater? Is this shade on trend? Why does this item look more faded than the others?”
Why it’s important: If colors aren’t on trend, Betty won’t consider the item. Also on the shelf or rack, inconsistent color leads Betty to question overall product quality.
Betty picks the item up off the shelf or rack and tries it on in-store.
She thinks: “Does the color on the packaging match the actual product? Does it fit properly?”
Why it’s important: Store lighting and fitting rooms can dramatically alter the appearance of color. After Betty makes a purchase and tries it on again at home, does she still like it?
Digital-to-physical moments of truth
Betty sees the product image online.
She thinks: “Can I picture myself wearing what I see online? Does it have good product reviews on the retailer’s website?”
Why it’s important: Color helps Betty determine whether the sweater is on trend and she may decide to purchase based on an item’s availability in a preferred color.
Betty opens the package after it arrives on her doorstep.
She thinks: “Is the sweater consistent to what I saw online? Does the packaging elevate the overall experience; is it wrapped beautifully or just thrown in a paper bag?”
Why it’s important: Product consistency means quality, texture, weight and color. If there are discrepancies in any of these, it may deter Betty from keeping the purchase. Packaging may also impact her feelings towards the overall product, elevating her experience with the brand.
Fashion, accessories and beauty designers need to ensure that color not only cohesively translates across different materials but also across different media such as e-commerce imagery, packaging and within the retail environment. If color varies too much across multiple touch points, the customer experiences suffer. According to a study by The CMO Council in August of 2017, two-thirds of marketers say consumers are very or extremely sensitive to visible differences between the images they see online and in-store.
But color consistency is achievable if brands can smoothly traverse the line between digital and physical elements within the workflow and get deep into the specifications when working with producers of end product and packaging. Color can stay consistent from the initial design to the retail rack by implementing the right best practices and tools.
Identify the intersections of digital and physical in your workflow.
Designers should consider points of translation between physical and digital design elements during the creative process. Some designers believe they don’t need to worry about the digital since they design entirely using physical processes, however, in our mobile-first, digital content-consuming world, the ability to represent physical items attractively and accurately in a digital purchase environment can be the difference between on sale and sold out.
When you connect product creation and digital marketing with physical product packaging, the touch points all mirror one another and provide consistency for your brand both online and in the store (or on the customer’s doorstep). Customers are less likely to return products when they appear the same in both the digital and physical realm, making color matching throughout the process important.
Close the gap with digital specification.
Eighty-six percent of designers have little to no knowledge of the manufacturability of color in their workflow, according to 2015 research by the Pantone Color Institute. Brands need to provide explicit instructions to those who will produce the final product, effectively closing the knowledge gap between those designing and those producing the product. There are many tools to do so.
For fashion, home in on material.
Fashion design often starts in the physical, by playing around with palettes and seeing how color appears on fabric. By utilizing color references like paper chips and cotton swatches during the inspiration and palette-building process, you can more easily and accurately communicate with the color producer with that color’s spectral data, which is akin to its DNA. This speeds up the initial production process before the physical check comes back into play during quality control.
Fashion designers can also experiment with 3-D renderings of a material with color so it appears lifelike in your design file. For example, a brand may select Pantone 18-3838 “Ultra Violet” in a pattern on velvet, 3-D scan it and share with the supplier so they can visualize the appearance of color on the material, drastically cutting down design approval and production times.
For packaging, identify efficiency opportunities.
Within packaging, back and forth with printers and converters is common — and costly. Sixty-five percent of designers go through two to three rounds with their supplier on color alone. This can be avoided by specifying color digitally versus sending physical proofs, which leaves little to no room for error by ensuring everyone across the value chain is using the same spectral targets.
Integrate digital standards into your workflow.
While many brands are cognizant of color chips and swatches, brand style guides, or even product prototypes, they have yet to utilize online tools that drive appearance (including color, texture, and patterns), such as digital color standards. These standards allow us to see how color will appear and in many cases, how it might change on the final material. If executed early in the creative process, brands can ensure a product’s color consistency as it makes its way through the value chain. This type of information can also be shared with marketing to ensure that product photos match the final product color online, helping the marketing team avoid photo reshoots and image touch-ups.
I say, let color reign and potentially change with trend, knowing that your team is capable of color consistency in both the digital and physical environments.