The Product Color Conundrum

The human eye can distinguish as many as 10 million different colors. To say my color palette had a few gaps in it would be an understatement. I always had a notion that this was the case: that there were more hues than my vague memories of primary and basic colors from a distant and underwhelming art education. I admit that in a past life I was color dumb. Though of course, this was something that my wife and more creative friends were keenly aware of.  But it wasn’t until I started working with products and companies that lived and died by color and design that I really came to appreciate the extent of my oversight. As I worked with Fashion and Beauty companies, Furniture retailers, Tile manufacturers, and even Office Supply distributors, I learned that color mattered a great deal. I was introduced to Azure, Ruby Red, Fern, Charcoal, Byzantium, and even Celadon and Smaragdine (Google will confirm I’m not making words up). I even worked with companies that created their own colors, which appears to be something that has slipped through the cracks of government oversight. The point is, color matters to a lot of consumers across a wide range of industries, and it’s something you cannot afford to get wrong.

Just as colors can be complex, the struggle for companies to manage them can be too. Across an entire enterprise, there could be multiple teams involved in managing color, from Design and Engineering to E-commerce and Procurement. With multiple teams and users came competing business objectives, a higher risk of human error, and lots of room for interpretation. Managing color was hard. Most of my clients needed no convincing of this, but some were skeptical about their own difficulties with color. Their shortcomings could almost always be proven by honing in on a specific tint and looking at their data. For 100 instances of Burgundy I could expect to get some variation of the following:

As you can see there are a lot of ways of interpreting (and spelling) the same thing. These types of discrepancies are a lot more common than many people realize. They certainly detract from the product experience your customers have, but they also cause problems with Site Search and SEO, and can wreak havoc with attempts at applying analytics to products and buying trends. Fortunately, these types of issues with colors are what Product Information Management systems were designed to eliminate. 

In Akeneo PIM, this headache would be solved by creating a field (attribute) of the simple or multi-select type. These fields allow the business to decide on exactly how they want to present each color (is it Burgundy or is it Violet?) and then enforce governance for all of their users so that they are applied consistently. Just as important in today’s global markets, the translation of these colors can also be standardized. Here’s what this approach looks like in Akeneo PIM:

Another common problem with managing color is that an individual color may need several different iterations depending on what system or team is working with it. For example, it’s not uncommon for a new SKU to be onboarded by a purchasing manager who inputs it as a generic “Blue” to fit the basic (and boring) requirements of the ERP system. Next, this same color is recreated as “Sapphire” by a content specialist looking to provide a proper marketing name. And on yet another path along the color carousel could involve an E-commerce Manager accounting for a website filter or search engine. Someone with my color sense would never in a million years search for “Sapphire” when looking for a product to buy (isn’t that an expensive rock?) You would be lucky for me to get as specific as “Dark Blue”!

In Akeneo PIM, users could account for this by making separate attributes like ERP Color, Color, SEO Tags, or Site Color. This allows you to manage the unique requirements of each component of color with data governance in the same product record. However, with Akeneo PIM Enterprise Edition you can benefit from an easier and more scalable approach: by using Reference Entities users can maintain all of their Colors, including their variations, in a single centralized entity as shown below:

Reference Entities also allow you to store and manage additional color information like Hex Codes and Swatches. All of this information can also be adapted and translated to different Sales Channels and Locales. Finally, (and arguably this is where the real power lies!) if I want to change a color’s name or description information, Reference Entities allow me to update ALL of the products referenced to that record in a few clicks without having to update each record individually. 

Managing colors is a complex and important part of product information management that is a struggle for companies of all sizes. High quality images may present what a product looks like to consumers, but it’s not enough. To optimize website filters, SEO, internal operations, and the tastes of discerning consumers who expect an exceptional product experience, color must be correct and contextualized across languages and business applications. Don’t whitewash color as I used to by treating it as just another data point to be managed in a back-end system. Instead, treat color like Picasso or Van Gogh did: as a powerful tool of great depth and intricacy that can attract attention and help curate the customer’s experience.

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