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Connecting With Consumers: Communicating Through Packaging

(Part 3 in a blog series)

By Michelle Niedziela, PhD

This is part 3 in a blog series covering how we use consumer research to improve consumer products and communications.

In this series we will be discussing different methodologies and their applications including: traditional, psychological and neuro based research, claims communications and substantiation, packaging applications, user experience (UX) research, branding, etc.

When a product is seen on a shelf, it creates an immediate impression on the consumer. Immediate perceptions are communicated via the packaging and expectations are established. Therefore it is important to ensure that these initial impressions are communicated correctly.

At HCD we have assessed consumer reaction to product packaging by having the consumers see and hold products in packaging while we measured them physiologically using neuroscience methodologies. With a combination of psycho-physiological measures, traditional quantitative questionnaires and conjoint analysis, we have been able to understand the consumer’s experience as they encounter packaging elements (colors, images, logos, messaging, etc.). Our findings have been used to help identify elements of packaging that are working well (or not so well) at building a positive consumer experience and ultimately influencing purchase.

woman shopping

Brand perception is your first communication.

Understanding how consumers perceive your brand is paramount and a good first step in uncovering the unmet needs of a product or product line. Knowing how consumers perceive your brand compared to other brands can provide insight into consumer need gaps that can drive innovation and uncover innovation opportunities. Understanding brand perception is very important to package design. Once you identify the need gaps of your brand, it is then possible to create messaging and imagery on packaging to fill these gaps.

To uncover these unmet needs we collect consumer terminology around the product category through qualitative focus groups online. We then combine powerful tools from traditional market research to rank order these terms and attributes to uncover which are most important to consumer. Following that we then use implicit psychological measures to get valuable consumer understanding about the consumer product needs (Greenwald et al., 1998). Implicit measure gauge consumers’ associations with the brand. By testing the top generated terms implicitly, we can then identify which terms are, or are not, most associated with the brand or the competitors (figure below). This powerful combination of research tools informs us how brands are associated and fulfilling (or not fulfilling) these needs (need gaps). In the example seen in figure 1, the attributes ranked to be most important for this product category were: sweet, flavorful and refreshing. However, it was clear from the implicit testing that the client brand was not ranked highly for these attributes. This indicated some brand health issues: while developers were confident from consumer testing that the product was meeting consumer expectations, the brand was not. The disconnect between the product experience (positive) and the brand associations (low) suggested that there was a brand communication issue for this client. Upon studying the packaging, it was easy to find possible remedies for the situation, which we will describe below.

Packaging real estate is a limited and valuable resource. Don’t waste it!

Real estate on packaging is highly valuable and limited and is the first explicit communication that a product has with the consumer. Therefore it is very important to understand how product labeling and packaging communications affect consumer perceptions. By combining traditional and physiological measures, we are able to demonstrate these affects.

Being able to assess the psychophysiological responses combined with behavioral measures such as eye tracking and/or behavioral analysis, we can then track consumer responses to specific elements of the package as they experience it.  In this way we can then gauge their reaction to package elements such as the brand logo, the package or brand messaging, product information, and imagery. For the example seen in the figure below, using this combination of methodology (eye tracking + psychophysiological measures) we were able to track consumer reactions to various segments of the package.

eye tracking

The logo for this package did not attract any visual attention compared to competitor packs (red-shaded box, fig. 3). This failure to engage the consumer indicates disinterest in the brand, which was also seen in the branding portion of the research described earlier (fig. 1). “New & Improved” messaging was completely ignored suggesting this is wasted space. We did see that meaningful messaging and communications on the package (green boxes, fig. 3) did attract interest and generate engagement. Therefore, we suggested to our client that if “new & improved” messaging was required, that it should be combined with useful and meaningful information to engage the consumer. In fact, the messaging on the pack was so effective that it elicited an effect we call “stopping power” – the ability to attract and engage the consumer in the product immediately and effectively, drawing the consumer in. Therefore, we recommended to this client that they move such effective messaging closer to the logo in order to create a “branding moment,” that would quickly engage the consumer with stopping power messaging and associating the brand with that message. Additionally, the product visual was positively engaging. When product visuals are used on the package it is important to capitalize on this engagement with the consumer by ensuring that brand logos are clearly visible on the product.

Holistic and cohesive communications in packaging is important.

Strong brand messaging and attractive packaging are key to enticing consumers to purchase products. It is important that the branding match the packaging and vice versa. However, if there is some disconnect between consumers and the brand, effective packaging can be used to bridge that gap. Therefore, it is important that key packaging elements (attributes) match the brand messaging and relate back to the brand (branding moments). But it is also important that those elements attract and positively engage the consumer (stopping power). Product consumer research examines how consumers perceive products holistically as well as by attributes. Understanding the impact of brand associations and packaging on consumers is key to winning at the shelf.

Real and thoughtful applied consumer neuroscience is about using the right combination of sensitive measures from psychology and neuroscience so we can understand the “why” of consumer behavior, something that can be extremely useful for making better products and packaging. In a larger viewpoint, it’s possible to see how understanding consumer needs for can help improve consumer communications.

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