Brands Seek to Communicate Beyond Basic Product Labels

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Many consumers today don’t just want to know the basics of what a product entails. They want to know how it was made and whether it aligns with their values. Product labels are evolving to meet the demand.

Dan Buckstaff, CMO of SPINS, a provider of in-store sales data, checked in with Street Fight to explain the product label’s evolution.

How have CPGs and retailers historically used product labels for marketing purposes?

Product labels existed pre-data, pre-technology and have been the main platform to convey the story of the product once the product leaves the CPG environment. As a concept, they are a compact and simple way of describing products, but this makes them restrictive when it comes to the amount and type of messaging that can be included. 

For the values-oriented consumer, looking at today’s product labels exclusively is insufficient in providing the attributes and information they are looking for in products. Even as the amount of information on product labels has grown substantially over the last five to 10 years, for regulatory and messaging purposes, consumers are finding it difficult to get a full and true view of a brand and product simply from the label.

How are capabilities in this space evolving?

These capabilities are rapidly evolving as more consumer engagement surfaces or methods of interacting with consumers continue to increase for products. From in-store experiences, shelf tags (both conventional and dynamic), and product display pages in ecommerce to search results (which are becoming more robust) and even ads themselves, the product label is evolving. 

Data and product intelligence are being applied to all those surfaces to not only better convey what a product is about, but to grasp an in-depth understanding of the product from its ingredients and attributes to its brand and certifications. There is constant innovation happening behind the scenes with data that is being collected and then flowed into those consumer engagement surfaces to provide the most accurate and seamless experience for consumers.

We’re seeing the emergence of new technologies in the form of AI and AR experiences through mobile applications that are just the start of how these surfaces can be innovated not only in person but through ecommerce. Consumer engagement surfaces are another form of storytelling for the brands to provide the best possible view of not only their product, but their brand. We are finding that consumers are just as interested in the ingredients in the products as they are with how those ingredients were obtained and brand practices.

What do product label analytics and data have to do with supply chain management?

Substitutability has become a hot topic for retailers and consumers over the last few years as supply chain issues and shortages have made it difficult to stock certain products and keep shelves full. It can be a challenge for retailers to find an exact match or complimentary item to replace a product that they can’t stock. Retailers must look at the ingredients, the messaging, the positioning, the price, and all the attributes that differentiate one product from another for successful substitutability — which comes from the product labels and product data.

The values-oriented consumer is not going to be easily swayed to switch from one product to another unless that product shares the same personal priority attributes. This may include sustainable practices, fair trade, and ethical sourcing, making substitutability important to retailers who attract these consumers.

Quality data and product intelligence is important for supply chain management because it makes substitutability possible for retailers and keeps consumers engaged with products.

What technologies do CPGs and retailers need to take advantage of this data?

Product data is the great missing data set out there today. There is an enormous amount of consumer data available whether it’s from a retailer loyalty program or first- or third-party source, but what is missing is a deep understanding of what products are about. To connect shoppers successfully with products they are looking for through consumer engagement surfaces, you need to have both consumer data and product data.

Combining both data sets together is a huge opportunity for retailers, product manufacturers, and brands to lean into that data and make it available today in a way that it never has been before. Product data does decay quickly, and keeping it updated is a challenge, which is why quality product data can be difficult to provide, but that makes it that much more important to combine both these data sets together to connect consumers to the products they are looking for.

Additional thoughts?

There are an outstanding number of places that quality, in-depth product data can be applied to improve the customer experience and better serve consumers. While consumer data itself is important to these experiences, understanding their purchases and why they buy the products they buy is just as important in creating those engagement surfaces.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at Editor@StreetFightMag.com