How can you optimize this important marketing element to improve your sales?

Here we will share some of our learning on packaging design research and describe how the right insights gathered from both traditional and more advanced research techniques can optimize your package to drive business results.

In This Article

> Packaging Research Definition

> Packaging Effectiveness with Shoppers And Consumers

> Packaging Research and Design Beyond CPG Companies

> Why Invest In Packaging Research

> Technology Is Enabling Better Packaging Research

> The Right Packaging Research Technique at the Right Time

> Common Mistakes in Packaging Research

> Keys to Getting the Most from Packaging Research

> How to Present Packaging Research

Packaging Research Definition

Whether you are developing packaging for an innovation, re-vitalizing a tired brand, launching a line extension or executing a new brand strategy, Packaging Research can be applied throughout the process. This includes development stages right to identifying the best final package. Packaging insights can increase shelf impact to break through the clutter, help prioritize key messaging, ensure fit with brand image and improve functionality.

Like other types of research, Packaging Research must take in account both conscious and subconscious decision making. It should combine what consumers say they will do with what they actually do. The final packaging should be tested in real life situations – at home, away from home or in-store. This will ensure your packaging is optimized to best meet consumer needs and improve business results.

Packaging Effectiveness
with Shoppers And Consumers

The best Packaging Research will identify insights from both a Shopper and Consumer viewpoint. On average, a shopper spends only 1.9 seconds at the shelf. So, for shoppers, your package must breakthrough and be easy to find. This can achieved through visual cues – color, brand or shape recognition. And, it must clearly communicate desired imagery and meaningful benefits.

From a consumer viewpoint, consider other elements. For one, the functionality of packaging. Is it easy to open, store and handle. Consider pet food for a large dog. Does your package fit into their car? Do they have room to store it at home? Is it easy to open and handle. Or, for an ingredient product, are instructions easy to read? Depending on the category and target group, the image conveyed by your packaging will be important. Is it for the shopper or someone else in the household? Is it a gift, for example, boxed chocolates, where a higher quality item is desired?

On-shelf impact: Always evaluate packaging in live or virtual shopper settings. Shopper mindset and competitive context will influence research results.

Packaging Clutter: Ensure the important packaging elements are being seen based on eye tracking. Ideally, focus packaging design efforts on 3 key elements per package.

Functionality: Does your package design take into account where and how consumers will use your product or how it will be stored. Consider a product for an aging consumer where the print size or color combinations make it hard to read.

Overall, ensure your product stands out on a busy shelf, connects with consumers through visuals and clear messaging and improves the overall experience of your brand. With these, you will successfully encourage trial and repeat purchase.

Packaging Research and Design 
Beyond CPG Companies

While it is true that CPG companies may rely on packaging insights more than other industries, packaging research is highly relevant for many industries. Electronics, toys and games, pharmaceutical, sporting goods, small appliances and others all rely on packaging design to stand out and communicate imagery, meaningful benefits and evoke emotional responses.

For Electronics, functionality and imagery will be keys to appealing to teens. Pharma products must convey efficacy clearly showing relevant benefits. Infant products must instill confidence while also tapping into Mom’s emotions. And, Expresso machines, must communicate a premium image. The one common element, however, is they must all stand out in store.

Retailers also conduct Packaging Research for Private Label products. Their goals are the same as branded products and often their package designs are very similar to the leading brands. Product benefits may also be similar but can include attributes such as value for money or “premium” store brand status. While retailers have the advantage of experimenting within their own environment, they will often conduct package research in advance.

Regardless of industry and where they are sold, all products must penetrate literally hundreds of distractions to stand out and must ensure their communication connects and motivates buyers.

The best Packaging Research experts will recognize these varying criteria and combine techniques to ensure optimal development and accurate measurement.

Why Invest In Packaging Research

Packaging has a big job to do! It must attract and connect with shoppers, clearly communicate product benefits, convey your brand image and evoke an emotional response, just to name a few.

However, packaging research can be a missed step due to competing priorities, tight timelines or a sense that packaging is easier to execute using existing expertise. This may be more of a missed opportunity or a disaster for the brand!

A few simple questions can help you decide if packaging research is worth the investment or worth the risk of not doing it.

First, how confident are you that your packaging is optimized to drive sales? Start with how well your package breaks through on shelf. There may be multiple entries, formats, sizes, varieties all of which will impact ease of finding your brand. This is one of the most important roles of your package. A package design that stands out on shelf and clearly communicates relevant benefits, both functional and emotional, can make the difference in shoppers choosing your brand.

Despite multiple elements, shoppers will only view three. Avoid clutter as too many elements decreases engagement. On average, only 15-35% of products are scanned by shoppers. Subconscious “codes” such as color, shape, size, icons and faces all help simplify navigation so shoppers easily find your package. Remember, unseen is unsold!

Secondly, are budget demands resulting in shrinking marketing dollars? In today’s challenging environment with increasing pressures on budgets, your package may be the only point of communication with your consumer. In these cases, your package must work even harder to be seen and connect with consumers. And if you do advertise, the package is featured in most brand communication. Your package must effectively carry your messaging through to the shopping and usage environments.

Thirdly, are you planning changes to your business? A decline in sales or failure to grow will, of course, trigger the need to analyze all angles of your business to decide what changes are needed. But, there are certain situations where packaging should always be considered.

  1. Innovation: Any new product development process should include packaging research phases. This is particularly important when entering a new category or a new segment of a category where your knowledge base is more limited.
  2. Brand revitalization – time to update a tired brand. Package changes in these situations are higher risk. It is critical to maintain existing users while gaining new ones. Your package cues – color, shape, logos – all play a vital role in brand recognition for current users. At the same time, you need to increase relevance for new users. It’s a fine balance between knowing the elements to keep and which to change. Research will play a critical role in minimizing risk.
  3. New communication strategy. A change in your communication strategy requires changes to all consumer touchpoints. Once you have validated your new strategy, it must be effectively executed across all major elements, including the package. This can include master brand strategy, sub-branding/headings or a change in brand positioning.
  4. Changes in the landscape. A change in competition, retail environment, consumer needs/trends or Government Regulations will drive a need to change your packaging. These all should be regularly monitored and, if you determine changes to your packaging are required, research will help you effectively evolve.
  5. Acquisitions: At times there is a need to fold an acquired business into your portfolio. In these cases, a transition plan is needed and packaging is one of the most important vehicles to plan. The risk is high in these situations where you must maintain the existing value of the brand while bringing new benefits to consumers.

The above situations do not cover every example of when you may change your packaging or conduct packaging research. And, it doesn’t mean packaging research is needed for every package. The key is determining when the risk of not doing research is highest.

Technology Is Enabling
Better Packaging Research

While packaging research isn’t a new idea to companies, how they approach and apply it has changed significantly.

Advances in technology and a better understanding of behavioral science based research have resulted in far more accurate market research tools across all Market Research, and packaging research is no exception to this.

Today’s challenging market environment and business demands require richer insights to gain a competitive edge and achieve desired growth. Thus, companies are turning to research experts whose techniques will provide deeper insight into decision making, including subconscious drivers, and are better predictors of actual behavior.

Thought leaders in market research are adopting and investing in building expertise and these more advanced market research techniques including eye tracking, facial coding, EEG. Their goal is to provide companies with the best insights possible for improved decision making.

There are a variety of research tools available depending on what you need to understand and the decisions you need to make.

The specific techniques used and when will be based on whether you are in the early development stage of packaging design, the optimization stage or in-market assessment of final options.

Development: Begin with Qualitative research, Ethnography and In-Depth Interviews, to gain a deeper understanding of the category, consumer and shopper.  Identify unmet needs or issues with existing or competitive packaging to understand opportunities. Simple audits of the store conditions and competitive packages are also helpful input at this stage.

Your Packaging Company will design a range of packaging options based on insights to date. The research objective now is to gain preliminary feedback and narrow down options  With many options, efficiently screen these down using on-line screening or quali-quant techniques. With a fewer number of packaging options, move directly into the optimization stage.

Optimization: At this stage, the goal is to improve packaging elements before final
“in-market” testing. This includes elements involved in both rational and emotional decision making.

Rational decisions often include functional design aspects. These can be tested using more traditional research techniques such quantitative surveys or in-home usage tests. These include understanding communication elements such as benefits or desired imagery.  Also include are usage elements, such as clarity of product instructions or ease of opening.

Understanding and optimizing the emotional response to your package requires more advanced research techniques. These are elements of the package that influence non-conscious behavior, that is, factors in the decision making process which consumers are not aware of and unable to accurately describe. For example, Facial Coding, helps identify the elements of your packaging where there is strong engagement and is a good technique for gauging emotional connection.

Another technique, Eye Tracking, shows what elements of the package are noticed and in what order. This includes colors, symbols, and words and can help increase likelihood of effective communication of all important benefit, as well as Branding, Sub-branding. When conducted in a shelf environment, which is recommended, Eye Tracking will also assess breakthrough.

In-Market Performance:  This is the final and the most important decision stage. Here you will select the packaging option to move forward with as the one which will most impact sales. Quantitative techniques done in realistic environments are critical at this stage.

Virtual reality or real shelf environment testing are best for accurately measuring effect on purchase. This is the only way the shopper can realistically experience your package and identify which one is most likely to be chosen. These take into consideration the competitive set, shopper distractions, time restrictions and other real live shopping distractions.

Quantitative testing in the usage environment is best for determining packaging designs that could increase repeat purchase. This is the only way your consumer can realistically experience your package. Cap size on laundry detergent or where your product is stored in the fridge for increased visibility will increase usage frequency.

Your business goals and research objectives will ultimately guide which are the best research approaches. The most successful outcome typically combines a blend of techniques to provide a complete picture.

Done right, you will ensure your package is working as hard as possible to increase sales!

Common Mistakes in Packaging Research

Packaging is often a forgotten element or considered a less important element than other forms of communication. Thus, conducting no packaging research or relying on Boardroom decisions on design are the biggest mistakes made! But, once the decision to do research is made there are several pitfalls to avoid.

Don’t let the consumer become your package designer! This happens when you rely on focus groups or only qualitative research to direct your design. While the right qualitative research plays an important role in developing understanding and gaining design input, they should never be your sole source.

Go beyond traditional packaging research techniques. Marketers have historically relied on qualitative or quantitative questionnaires to test packaging. The problem with these approaches is that respondents are not a reliable source when it comes to remembering and describing their own behaviour. People tend to give a rational explanation as to why they made a choice when in fact there are other subconscious factors influencing decisions that they are not even aware of.

Combining rational with sub-conscious decision making is the most powerful way to gain needed insights. This doesn’t necessarily mean multiple research studies, increased cost and extended timeframes. Studies can be designed to extract various data from one study, such as follow up in-depths with a sub-set of respondents.

Test in the shopper or usage environment. Not testing in real life situation is the biggest mistake that can be made in packaging research. It can lead to decisions that will result in packaging that fails to meet the business goal. To ensure strong packaging insights, it is critical to test in situation to measure real behavior. Taking distractions, shopper mindset, competitive environment, etc into consideration in your research is the only way to feel confident implementing decisions made.

The science of packaging has been studied for decades and certainly learning is to be gained from this. Your Packaging Agency also has experience in how packaging works. However, all shoppers and consumer target groups behave differently depending on the category, the channel, competitive environment and the usage situation. Without the reality of actually observing and understanding consumer input, you risk making costly decisions.

Keys to Getting the Most
from Packaging Research

There are general design keys to getting the most out of any marketing research conducted including design elements, sample and correct interpretation of results. The following guidelines go beyond these and will help you get the best return on your investment.

Have clearly stated business goals and research objectives. In general, insights in market research, including packaging research, can be nice to know, not need to know. This is usually the result of not having clear business goals or research objectives. This results in insights that are either not actionable or not relevant to the business needs.

Go beyond facts and data. Another common reason for not getting the most from your research is to stop at facts or data versus translating these into true insights. Consumers cannot give you insights. It requires experienced market researchers to interpret the learning and get to true insights and recommendations.

Have benchmarks for comparison. It is impossible to determine whether the package design is optimal or sub-optimal if tested in isolation. Comparing to the current package or competition are key to assessing performance.

Conduct research in real life situations. Consider where purchase occurs, whether it is most often in traditional channels, fast food, vending machines, cinema, on-line, etc or a combination. Also, consider usage behavior. Is the category consumed in or out of home; alone or shared as examples. This will guide you in terms of what and how to measure and, importantly, where.

Combine traditional research techniques with more advanced techniques. Consumers are not always able to accurately describe why they do things, especially beyond surface functional reasons. Be sure to combine techniques to gain insight into sub-conscious triggers, barriers and motivators rather than just relying on what consumers say. This will result in richer insights and more relevant actions.

Leading Research Companies will ensure they have an up to date understanding and expertise in all of these techniques before recommending a research approach. They will also have a clear understanding of your business needs and goals.

How to Present Packaging Research

Let your business goals and research objectives be your guide to presenting learnings.

Avoid the temptation to present every fact and piece of data you collect. Everything you learn in research may not end up being as relevant to the objectives as first thought. Nor do the learnings carry equal weight in the decisions you need to make. Focus on those insights that will lead to relevant and actionable recommendations.

Headline each key insight and support it with visuals and learning to bring it to life and reinforce the importance of the insight. Big picture summaries which rapidly drill into actionable examples make this a great tool for internal buy-in.

For newer or less well known techniques, provide a brief review of the purpose and how the learning is applied before presenting the findings. This will help gain buy-in to the findings. Use live examples from previous work, if approved by your clients, to demonstrate the learning put to action. This will create confidence and credibility in the results.

Keep your audience in mind. Senior level executives will be interested in quickly getting to the insights and recommendation. Your Packaging Design Agency will be interested in the design details. Consider a shorter up-front Insight and Recommendations section followed by detailed learning.

Ideally, after presenting the insights and recommendations, you will have demonstrated the power of packaging in attracting shoppers, satisfying consumer needs and ultimately the important role packaging plays in creating a competitive advantage and increasing sales.

Keep in mind that, in the end, unless insights can be appropriately identified and captured and presented in a clear, credible way they will not be applied.