Business Musings: A picture is worth 1000 sales
This is likely to be the first in a series of articles (with perhaps a hint of semi rants) regarding the visual presentation of stores, logos, and product photography in Secondlife. Today we are going to talk about product photography, and I'm going to follow up with visual store presentation and then finally logos and branding. So, here we go.
One of the things I notice, particularly about new vendors is a serious lack of attention to 'product photography'. This is, a presentation image of your product in its best light that will entice the viewer to buy it. Many new vendors I meet are more concerned with the simple act of setting up shop than presentation of any kind. This of course results in some serious eyesores of shops, and the cold, hard reality is that it really doesn't matter how good your product is, if it looks like crap, people are going to assume its crap. What many new vendors fail to realize is that a poor presentation may infact be hurting your sales MORE than the actual location or products you offer. You have to remember, that in the giant clutter of eyesores in SL, if you want to stick out, you have to NOT be an eyesore. People are attracted to good design and thoughtful, slick presentation. The more refined your presentation is, the more people are going to be inclined to not only check out your stuff, but believe in the quality of the merchandice, and trust that you know what you are doing as a vendor.
So what makes for a good presentation?
Well, there are several factors, three that are major.
1) Vendor textures
2) Space usage/store setup
The most important I find is the vendor textures. While the other two are also important, the vendor texture is often times the main visual presented, especially in small spaces with limited prim allocations. There are four major peices of information that should be present on a vendor texture aside from the actual picture of the product itself:
1) The name of the product
This is important, especially if you have products that might be similar with only slight differences. For example a mod vs a no mod version of a product. Or one that is a dusky red vs one that is a true red. People have a very poor color memory and memory for detail in general. They may not realize, without a definative marker like a name, that two similar products may be significantly different. It also makes clear what you are selling, especially if you are using a model that has been decked out with products from other stores. A common example of this is in clothing. The vendor is selling the clothing, but not the shape, hair, skin, shoes, eyes, etc of the model in the picture. By giving it a clear name, it helps to eliminate any misunderstandings or misrepresentations of your product.
2) The price of the product
People want to know clearly and quickly how much something is. They don't want to have to mouse over it or go looking through fields of hovertext, and both of those aren't present if you intend to use the texture as an add for the web/blog later. Its good to be clear also incase there is a vendor malfunction that the product was a particular price if there is any discrepencies in the records.
3) The permissions of the product
This can be a make-it-or-break-it for some people. Most people who've been in secondlife for more than a few months get a strong sense of the types of permissions they want on the things they buy. Some won't by anything that isn't transferable. For other people the ability to mod or copy is the most important, so its important to make it clear what sort of permissions are on your products.
4) Key features of note/product list
Because there isn't always a demo and no sales people in SL, your graphics have to basically do the job of a sales person themselves. Part of selling is telling a potential customer what is cool about a product and what sorts of features it has. Some products may have more features than can be listed on a vendor texture (in which case you put "Click for notecard!" on the vendor texture.), but most its simply listing key features that would help a potential consumer understand the strengths of your product. Some products its not as practical for, such as clothing since we all know what clothing is and does, but in that case, its good to list what the customer actually gets when they buy the product. So if its a summer bikini you are selling you would put :
1 bikini top
1 bikini bottom
This again makes very clear exactly what is included in the purchase price. Shoppers are always looking for value for their L$ and providing a product list is a good way of showing value.
One peice of information that should be on a vendor texture primarily if there is no other signage around it permitted is your logo. Its optional though.
Aside from the information, there should be a compelling, clear, visually appealing picture (or collage of pictures) of whatever it is you are promoting. Aside from appauling typography and heinous gaudy builds, this is probably one of my biggest pet peeves of shopping. Ugly photography is a definate turn off when shopping. If I can't see clearly what you are selling or it looks crappy or too small or hard to see or blurry or just plain looks like you didn't care at ALL, unless its something that I'm in desperate need of, I'm probably not going to buy it from you, even if it rocks my socks. ( that is unless someone hunts me down and gives me a demo or something, but your vendor still failed to make me buy.)
I can hear some voices already going "But Myst, its impossible to get good photography in SL!". To that I say 'not so!', however, much like in real life, it does require some post processing to get the most out of it. Most 'raw' photography isn't really good enough or complete enough to be used as a vendor texture alone. Just taking a picture and uploading it to your inventory to use as a texture usually isn't a good idea. Not only is there usually a LOT of wasted space in casual snapshots in SL, but it hasn't got any of the information on it that it needs. Also, most people don't consider key factors such as lighting, composition, background, etc. If you have the land to put it, creating a 'photography studio is nice. There are several out there for sale if you don't have the means or want to create your own, but they are very handy. Backdrops, lighting, and model pose is all controlable and you can take your time to compose your shots. If you like to roam around, location photography can also be quite effective, showing your product 'in use' as it were.
Some of the more effective uses of photography i've seen for products are in instances where there are several models or a single model shown from a couple of different angles with a definitive focus on the product. A few examples I can think of off the top of my head for clothing designers is Pixeldolls, who generally have several shots of the product in a single picture with variations of the outfit on a single model (generally). The shots are clean, the product is obvious, and all the information is presented cleanly and clearly. For a different style, but again, multiple presentation, BareRose puts several models sometimes of totally different sorts (humans with furries, males with females) for their products to show how the product might be worn on different avatars. The photos are generally taken from different angles with poses and then assembled onto the texture. There is also a consistant, clear presentation. You can instantly recognize a BareRose product box even if you aren't in a store. In the forums, its instantly recognizable. There are many other designers with excellent presentations, but those are a few I could name off the top of my head. I'll try to find some other samples, as seeing is often much better than trying to explain. Although I will note that sometimes there is too much of a good thing. I've seen people try to cram 12 or more product shots onto a single 512 x 512 texture and it looks equally horrid.
The last thing I'll mention is to really watch the size of your textures. They should be no more than 512 x512, preferably less if possible. The smaller your vendor textures the quicker they rez and the less lag they cause when someone gets into the area. This is particularly true with prim vendors because there are a BILLION textures to load, all in one go. The computer basically never stops chugging. So make sure you optimize your textures before you upload them. Other ways people do it is to put several vendor panels on a single texture and just move it around on the prim. This is very economical for you because you can get several textures for the upload price of one, and the person only has to load one texture as opposed to many. So its a thought. The faster people can see how great your stuff is, the faster they are probably going to be willing to buy it.