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Five tips for product communications

Product communications are at a turning point. Due to the change in purchasing behaviour and the explosive growth in the array of channels, product communications has a more diverse role compared to what it was before: product communications are a form of customer service that is always up to date and suitable for each usage situation. For the execution of this, the product information management and distribution automation of today offer many tools that product managers and the marketing department could previously only dream of.

Over the last few years, the markets have become clearly more customer-oriented. It can be said that in commerce the power has shifted to the customer. This applies in B2C just as it does in B2B. Customers buy what, where and when they like. This leaves the role of the seller to offer what the customer needs, where and when they need it.
In order to serve their customers, companies have to listen to the wishes of the buyers and identify the quiet signals of the markets in time. In order to cope in the competition, you must be able to react in an agile way to changing needs and meet the customers at the right time in the right channels, with the right contents. Indeed, it’s possible to say that with the help of product communications we want to create even more effective multi-channel product experiences at all meeting points.
So how are these effective multi-channel product experiences created? Here are five tips:

1. Centralising product information management

The favourite saying of data consultants “you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out” is also true with regard to product contents. Good product communications experiences are based on quality content. When there are many distribution channels, it is impossible to produce channel-specific content management with a high level of quality. In many channels, we come up against rubbish or at least product information that is imprecise or out of date. When product information management  is centralised in one place from which all contents are produced for all distribution channels, content management becomes significantly easier. Of course it’s still important that only high-quality contents are entered into the centralised product information management, but good work done once is available for use straightaway in all distribution channels, without forgetting about the channels of the future, for which the contents are already ‘in the bank’.

2. Agreeing on the ownership of information

It’s important that a company has a consistent way of managing the product contents needed in the business. Everyone has to be able to rely on the quality of the information that is available and that it is up to date. It is good to define clearly both ownership of information and the responsibility for its upkeep. Who is responsible for technical product information, who for images, who for product information texts and who for prices? Usually the owners are fairly self-evident, but if ownership has not been agreed on mutually, it’s difficult to rely on all information types and their updating having been taken care of. By specifying ownerships, the risk of ‘rubbish’ ending up in some distribution channel can be minimised.

3. Connecting systems to each other

Marketing and communications are fascinating and full of new possibilities. Every day, we come across new handy, often almost free tools with which we can reach our potential customers with our product messages more effectively than before. The number of marketing systems has been said to have increased twentyfold during the last six years. However, underuse of systems is a common challenge in companies. This is understandable if the systems are disconnected and producing content for each one has to be done separately. So, it’s worth thinking about the architecture of marketing systems as a whole. That is, how the systems can be made to utilise shared data sources and how product information that has been enriched in one place can be used in all channels.

4. Making use of publishing automation tools

Marketing automation is a concept that is familiar to everyone, but less is spoken about publishing automation. In principle, it too is automation of marketing and communications. Publishing automation allows the synchronisation of information from one centralised system into all electronic distribution channels. Also related to publishing automation, there are the tools of sales, with which all the required sales materials from offers, customer-specific price lists and sales outlet materials are created. Correspondingly, the tools of marketing can be employed to automatedly fold product cards, data sheets and even catalogues containing thousands of products. Centralised product information management is utilised behind all of these too.

5. Involvement and facilitation

We are living through the rise of employee advocacy. Employees, partners and even customers are made use of more and more strongly in brand-building and communications. This requires easiness in order to succeed. People are happy to talk about a good product, as long as the necessary contents and channels are available to be used without effort.
All product contents with their language versions can be managed in a centralised way and provided for the use of interest groups, for example to be shared in the social media.

The product communications of today and the creation of more effective product experiences done with it, are easier than before by making use of technology. In fact, the key to success lies in how the technology is used. Even a good system does not help if people are not able to use it in accordance with the needs of the company. In this too, it’s worth turning to the experts. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel and it’s worth making use of practices that have been found to be good.

Remember these image management tips

A well-functioning image production process is an integral part of successful product information management. An exemplary image production process and optimal master format enable efficient administration and optimal utilization of the images.

As part of product information management, we always define the image production process and an optimal master format together with our clients. Regrettably, many companies still utilize outdated information in their image production processes, or processes that are meant for another purpose entirely. When high-class utilization of images in multiple channels is needed, this matter requires particular attention.

To start, it is essential to know the big picture and all the contexts where the images will be used. This article primarily examines the management of thousands or tens of thousands of images, where the choices are guided by e.g. as straightforward a workflow as possible and a high level of automation. In other words: how to achieve a good basic quality as (cost-)efficiently as possible. One of the greatest challenges in the pipeline between digital and print is color management, which sometimes makes choices difficult.

There is no one single configuration that would apply always and for everyone, but in the following there are a few tips to help you get started, at the very least.

1. Master format (for photos)

JPG or PSD. A minimally compressed JPG works as a master image for almost all purposes. It supports color profiles and clipping paths. If you need the following features in master images, it is recommended to choose PSD (Photoshop) as master format.

  • Transparency
  • You want to preserve the Photoshop features of the original, e.g. layers.
  • It is worth your while to go through these carefully, so that the image works smoothly for all channels.
image

A sample image from Martela’s photos.

Original image size 5760 x 3840 pixels. The original image has a lot of white background. File sizes when image is saved in different formats:

image-1

For JPG images, the Photoshop Quality value is in parentheses.

The graph shows that, for example, using JPG (quality 10) in comparison to the original TIF gives up to a 99% reduction in file size.

2. Color space and color profile (for photos)

An RGB workflow enables high-quality image utilization in different channels. Today practically all images are photographed digitally, resulting in an original file in RGB mode. In RGB workflow the image is kept in RGB mode as long as possible. For printing purposes, the conversion to CMYK mode is done only for the material that is sent to the printing service, directly into the ICC profile that the service uses. All redundant profile conversions result in loss of image data, i.e. hues.

It is recommended to choose AdobeRGB or sRGB as master image ICC profile. It is usually a matter of taste, but Adobe RGB’s Gamut is slightly wider than sRGB’s. Browsers used to support only the sRGB profile, but today all the most common browsers know how to utilize also other ICC profiles, and color management works also within the browser. In this case it might be best to embed the profile into the image, resulting in slightly bigger file size.

3. Vector images and graphics

It is recommended to save vector images in AI (Adobe Illustrator) format or EPS format. The RGB instructions don’t necessarily apply to vector images. Logos, for example, use often spot colors, when the original color profile is to be left untouched.

Defining black in RGB -> CMYK conversions brings an extra challenge. For this reason graphics going to print are often produced and stored in CMYK mode.

4. Dimensions

The physical size of the master image, i.e. it’s dimensions, can be defined according to the largest known image size requirement. It is also possible to use the full-size original, but if, for instance, there are hundreds of thousands of products and product images, it may be wise to limit the size of the master image and thus optimize disk and data bandwidth usage. A correctly picked image format also helps in file size optimization.

5. As uniform a mass as possible

So that the processes for large numbers of images can be made as streamlined as possible, special attention needs to be paid that images from different sources are according to your instructions and in as uniform a format as possible. We do almost always help our clients communicate to their suppliers and partners about the used image formats. Photoshop automation can also help in harmonization of a large mass.

6. Utilization in different channels

Take into consideration all channels that are being used and how the images can be converted, as automatically as possible, in to the form required by the different channels. When e.g. PIM system automation is used to create versions of images for use in different channels, attention needs to be paid to, for instance, optimizing thumbnail image size (format, profile cleaning etc.). If web is the only channel, the process as a whole is a little easier to carry out. Then again, if one day there is a wish to use the images in print, the process built for web requirements may cause huge changes.

About the production processes

It pays to configure image production processes carefully. Also in this case a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Below an example of one image production process:

image-2

We are also glad to help with anything image related. Go ahead and ask more, and we can tune also your image production process up to its peak.

More image production tips: https://www.shopify.com/blog/75481285-6-steps-to-streamline-your-product-photography-workflow