Packaging through a consumer lens

Packaging continues to play an increasingly important role in a marketing mix. With ever increasing media fragmentation, rapidly changing retail space, abundance of choice and the growth of online shopping, packaging remains the golden opportunity to achieve 100% reach with consumers.

Maximising every opportunity to get ahead of competitors can mean the difference between product success and failure. One of the easiest yet most effective ways of doing so is to view your product and packaging through a consumer lens and leveraging this insight.

Sea of competitors

Packaging can have a huge impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Studies have found that consumers take only seven seconds to decide whether or not to put a product in their shopping basket. 90% of these decisions are made subconsciously and packaging plays a lead role in getting a product noticed amongst a sea of competitors.

Given one third of all consumers’ decision-making is based on packaging alone, it’s of vital importance for brands to understand consumer preference, needs and wants through the research and testing of new concepts.

Understand the consumer

Consumer research helps brands understand packaging performance on shelf, as well as identifying the motivation behind selection of one product over another. Brands use various types of research to get to grips with this information and understand the likelihood of product success. The process also helps determine the effects of proposed changes, and how designs can be tweaked to achieve greater success.

Consider all channels

A well executed research and development plan includes the entire product and consumer journeys and take into account both conscious and subconscious decision making.  Testing should be conducted in real life situations with consumers at home, away from home, in-store, online and combine what consumers say they will do with what they actually do

Despite massive growth in Amazon and other e-commerce channels, the majority of consumer packaged goods sales still take place in traditional stores with products that consumers can both see and touch. Every aspect of the customer's experience should be factored into a research plan.

Shoppers and consumers

In order to be effective, packaging must appeal to both shoppers and consumers. Within this blog we’ll take a closer look at the distinction between the two groups and key elements to consider when trying to connect with both.

What’s the difference?

Walk up to any casual business conversation and you will likely hear the word “consumer” or “shopper” thrown around like a hot potato. In most conversations, “shopper” and “consumer” are used interchangeably. While this is understandable for brevity’s sake, when it comes to data analysis and insights, a “shopper” and a “consumer” are very different entities. The best packaging research will deliver insights from both a consumer and shopper perspective.

A “shopper” is an individual who physically visits the retail location or online storefront to make a purchase. This individual may not actually consume the product or products they purchase, but they hold the purchasing power.

The “consumer,” on the other hand, is the end user of the product and packaging that’s been purchased. This individual may physically purchase the product in store or they may have a designated shopper.

The difference between a shopper and a consumer is best illustrated with an in-store example.

Let’s say a woman, more specifically a married woman, goes to a store to pick up a prescription. While she is there, she buys her husband a bottle of shower gel and some shaving cream. The wife is the shopper and the husband is the consumer; while the wife purchased the shower gel and shaving cream, her husband is the end user.

On average, a shopper spends only 1.9 seconds at the shelf. So, for shoppers, your packaging must standout for easy identification. This can be achieved through visual cues such as colour, branding or shape recognition. It must clearly communicate desired imagery and meaningful benefits of the brand.

From a consumer perspective, other elements should be considered such as packaging functionality. Is it easy to open, store and handle? Consider bulk refill packs of hand soap. Do consumers have room to store the pack at home? Is it easy to refill the dispenser?

Guessing game

As we’ve already established, product packaging has a big job to do - it must attract and connect with shoppers and consumers, clearly communicate product benefits, convey a brand image and evoke an emotional response, just to name a few.

Despite this, research frequently gets eliminated from the design process due to competing priorities, budget constraints or tight timelines. This results in missed opportunities for brands or product failure. Businesses that act without first conducting research are playing a guessing game. Increasingly, however, these are few and far between.

Right research, right time

There are a variety of research tools available for brands owners to consider. The most appropriate will be depend on which stage of the packaging design process they are at- early development, optimisation or assessing final designs.

Discovery phase

If at the discovery stage of a process, qualitative research and ethnography studies could be considered to gain a deeper understanding of the category, consumer and shopper. These help identify unmet customer needs or issues with existing or competitive packaging that need to be addressed. Simple audits of retail conditions and competitive packaging are also extremely helpful to understand potential opportunities. It’s important to also have the context of the shelf to understand the amount of complexity in the category.

The discovery phase ultimately helps inform the packaging brief with deep insight that can be used to help fine tune final design.

Develop phase

During this stage brands will have already developed a range of packaging options based on insight to date. The research objective would now be to gain preliminary feedback, narrow down options and efficiently screen these down using on-line screening or quali-quant techniques. If they only have a small number of packaging options, brand owners could progress the designs directly to final validation.

The goal here is to fine tune and improve packaging elements before final “in-market” testing. This includes all elements involved in both rational and emotional decision making.

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

If brand owners are looking to understand and optimise emotional responses to their packaging they should consider more advanced research techniques. These test elements of the packs that influence non-conscious behaviour, that is, factors in the decision making process which consumers are not aware of and are unable to accurately describe.

One such technique, Eye Tracking, identifies which elements of the packaging are noticed by shoppers and in what order. This could include colours, symbols, and words and can help increase likelihood of effective communication of all important benefits, as well as branding and sub-branding.

Decision making

During this stage brands will be identifying the lead packaging option to launch. Quantitative techniques conducted in realistic environments are critical to best assess in market performance of designs.

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 packaging and enable brands to determine whether a product is likely to be selected for purchase. These methods take into consideration all factors such as the competitive set, shopper distractions, time restrictions and other real life shopping impacts.

Brand goals, budget and research objectives will ultimately guide the best research approach. The most successful outcome typically combines a blend of all of the above techniques to provide a complete picture. Research done right will ensure your packaging is working as hard as possible for brands.

Science of packaging

Packaging is often a forgotten element or considered less important than other forms of communication. Conducting little or no package design testing or relying on boardroom decisions to qualify designs can prove costly.  

Failure to test with consumers in real life situations can also lead to uninformed decision making. It’s vital to test packaging in real life scenarios and measure real behaviour. Taking distractions, shopper mindset, competitive environment, etc. into consideration is the only way to make a confident decision.

The science of packaging has been studied for decades and there is certainly a lot more to learn. Shoppers and consumer target groups behave differently depending on the category, the channel, competitive environment and the usage occasion. Without having a robust research plan to fully observe and understand these factors, brands risk setting themselves up for failure.