Behavioral Research: The Key to Developing Great Packaging

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How to Leverage Behavioral Research for Package Design

Most of us default to buying brands that can be quickly seen and understood. We simply don’t have time to compare the options in a category. As a result, much of our decision making is being made by our subconscious minds and packaging is driving many of these decisions. The color, shape, design and logos of packaging all contribute towards influencing our choices.

Due to the overabundance of choice in today’s stores, marketers need to break through the sea of clutter and understand how shoppers actually make decisions. Understanding shopper behavior will result in improved pack performance.

Behavioral Science has many principles that play out in our shopper labs on a daily basis. For instance, the relative size of packages or the assortment can change behavior through the principle of value anchoring. How choices are presented will have a dramatic affect on behavior. This choice architecture on the shelf and on packaging work together to shape behavior. Understanding this shelf and store context is very important when designing packaging. When choices can be simplified, we typically see an increase in sales.

For starters, packs must be seen in store to be bought and have to differentiate themselves in order to justify a price premium. This is more important than ever for well-known brands trying to compete against store brands that have differentiated themselves on price. Packaging also needs to communicate a brand’s core values and ensure that the unique selling proposition is clearly communicated.

Traditionally marketers have tended to rely on questionnaires to test packaging. The problem with this approach is that respondents are not a reliable source when it comes to describing their own behavior. People tend to give a rational explanation as to why they made a choice when in fact there are other subconscious factors that are influencing their decisions that they are not aware of. A better approach is to observe a respondent’s behavior in the context of the shelf set.

One way to achieve this is through the use of eye tracking glasses. Eye tracking captures precisely where the eye is looking and provides deep insights to behavior that is being driven by our subconscious. It can tell us things that the respondent either is not aware of, or lacks the vocabulary to precisely describe. We have conducted comparisons of respondents shopping a shelf with eye tracking glasses versus seated and looking at a projected shelf image. What we have found is that shopping behavior will greatly change what is viewed at shelf. Not having a behavioral component to your packaging research is a miss.

Secondly, package research needs to be done in context and that’s where the shopper lab comes in. Shopper labs are designed to look like real store environments and can be customized to look like a section of the supermarket or any other retail outlet. Respondents do not really know what they want until they see a product in context. In a shopper lab, packaging can be tested on shelf next to the competition to see if it is truly breakthrough. Cameras and two-way mirrors allow the observation of behavior in a very natural setting.

As we develop an appreciation for the complexity of human decision making, the power of packaging becomes more and more evident. Given that there are so few ways in which we can influence people’s shopping decisions, a huge opportunity is being missed if packaging is not used effectively. Behavioral research is one of the most effective ways to create better packaging.

Anne Stephenson
Partner, Explorer Research

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Packaging