Packaging Exploration (Qualitative Research)

The prime research objectives at the early stages of packaging development relate to the exploration of consumers’ motivations, and the understanding of their knowledge and perceptions of the category and the brands. The research must prescribe areas for improvement, spelling out how the design elements can be refined.

At this stage, it is essential to understand how effectively the packaging is communicating what the brand stands for — the proposition, brand personality, the key symbols, identifiers and icons. This usually falls within the scope of qualitative research. It is relevant not only for the development of new packaging, but also when there is the need to substantially redesign and revitalize existing packaging.

Where more than one packaging design is being tested, the research should identify the most promising packaging designs, and screen out less promising options.

Generally the aim of the new or redesigned packaging is to attract non-users and increase loyalty among existing users. Research must therefore focus on understanding how consumers engage with the packaging, and how it impacts brand image and brand equity.

There might be the need to balance the new packaging’s appeal for new/lapsed target consumers with the risk of alienating some loyal users. Hence the need to assess the dissonance, if any, created by the packaging.

Methodology

The objectives outlined above are best addressed through qualitative research — focus group discussions or depth interviews/observation. Focus groups encourage exchange of ideas and points of view, and can provide for faster turnaround. However, if groupthink, i.e. the desire to conform to group opinions, is a concern, you should consider depth interviews.

For continuous weaning and improvement, an iterative sequence of three or more sessions is recommended.

Usually projective and enabling techniques such as word associations, sentence completion and mapping are employed to elicit insights from respondents’ thoughts and feelings.

Besides prototypes and packages, the stimulus materials should include images of shelf displays and materials for exercises such as visual search.

Generally, at the start, the discussion dwells on respondents’ product usage and shopping behaviour.

The packaging evaluation typically falls into three stages — review of packaging in category, packaging exploration/evaluation and rating/ranking of packaging.

Review of Packaging in Category

In this stage of the discussion, prototype(s) of the new packages are shown alongside major competing packages.

The line of questioning revolves around the characteristics about the packs that draw attention, the messages the packs are communicating, and whether it is easy to distinguish the brands and variants. Which packs are better at projecting desired product attributes? Which messages are clear and easy to grasp? Which ones are confusing? Which packs arouse respondents’ interest to purchase?

The moderator constantly probes, asking follow-up questions to grasp respondents’ rationale, understand their feelings, and seek explanations in their own words. She also strives to understand which of the design elements — graphics, colours, information, symbols, pack sizes etc. — are contributing to respondents’ perceptions.

Packaging Exploration/Evaluation

Central to the discussion is the evaluation of the test packaging. This is conducted monadic or sequentially monadic, if more than one packaging is to be tested. (Monadic is the more accurate approach as it eliminates bias of one design on another).

The moderator might conduct an activity where respondents jot down their initial impressions about the packaging. The follow-up discussion focusses on the design elements such as the images, labels, icons, and symbols, to sense what they individually communicate. Compared to the other brands, how unique is the packaging?

The moderator also explores how the packaging relates to the respondents; whether it strengthens the relationship between the respondent and the brand. They are asked to describe the type of person who would be induced by the packaging to buy the product. Which elements of the packaging (if any) do they connect with or cherish?

The use of eye tracking can greatly enhance the value of the research. As described in the section Biometrics — Engagement, gaze plots and heat maps reveal what consumers gaze at first, how they visually consume the packaging and what attracts their greatest attention. Other biometric devices used in conjunction with eye tracking gauge attitudinal the engagement of respondents. EEGs, for instance, capture respondents’ feelings, their level of attention and engagement, and the extent that they are mentally stretched.

Packaging should also be evaluated in terms of shelf impact. Respondents are shown an image of the shelf with the new packaging, and discuss how well the packaging stands out. A visual search exercise may also be conducted along the lines described in the section Shelf Impact — Visual Search Test.

Shelf impact may also be assessed using eye trackers in the ways described in the section Shelf Impact — Eye Tracking. At the early stages of the development process, it would be more viable to use virtual shelves populated with digital images of packs. Respondents view these mock-ups on computers coupled with screen-based eye trackers, in a controlled location setting. Their gaze plots, gaze duration, order of fixations, and heat maps yields valuable insights into the shelf impact of the packaging.

Rating/Ranking of Packaging

What follows is the rating/ranking of the new and old packaging on design and aesthetics, communication of the brand name, communication of the brand’s value proposition, disposition to purchase, uniqueness, and findability, i.e. ease of finding the product on shelf.

Key issues and specific areas of interest are addressed here. For instance, if the key objective of the new packaging is to appeal to the youth and project a more modern outlook, then it is important that these aspects are fully addressed.

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