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  • Allison Gutkowski & Marcella Markman

The Packaging Love Story

Ah, the package – the start of many great love stories. A package sets expectations and provides promises of what our experiences will be. It can be the start of a great love story or great disappointment if our expectations are not met.

This love story could start on an impulse- the color, shape, the je ne sais pas of the product that catches your eye in the HomeGoods checkout line. Never in your life did you realize you needed this product, but in that moment, you have never been so certain of anything in your entire life.

Or maybe your story starts a bit more old fashioned. You are in the shampoo aisle uncapping and experiencing every suitor, like a carefully choreographed Renaissance dance, thoroughly evaluating all of your options, studying their pedigree and making an attentive selection.

No matter the start of this love story, it usually begins with anticipation and expectation. So how can we ensure our consumers experience the perfect fit- where their expectations are fulfilled, and their epic love story prevails? While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all answer or method, there should be a carefully developed process that starts at the infancy of product development and is carried through the product life cycle.

Today, lets focus in on how just a few tools from applied behavioral neuroscience can help establish sound building blocks during the packaging process.

Consumer Understanding:

One thing is for certain, products can play major roles in our daily routines and become engrained in our habits. And when these products are optimized for our behaviors, they can make a world of difference.

If you parent, you may remember the joys of diaper changing. While you may have never expected it to be pleasant, the parenting books should have warned you better about how your child will inevitably squirm, wiggle and attempt to free themselves of whatever surface you have laid them on. Oh, and while your child is reenacting a prison break, you must go through a multi-step process consisting of several products that can make an already unpleasant job dang near impossible.

Starting from ground zero and understanding these daily routines and behaviors is the first step to optimizing the packages we rely so heavily upon. One example of how we can do this is by diagnosing and quantifying the behaviors that go into the routines and habits with the use of behavioral coding. Through the use of videos capturing the routine, we can quantify behaviors- for example, the number of wipes used on the baby or the duration of time it took to open a package or tube of diaper cream. Quantifying behaviors allows us to break down routines into their most basic forms and diagnose areas for optimization which can be used as benchmarks for new product prototypes. Furthermore, the use of methods, such as facial coding (professional facial coder, not automatic), can help us better understand potentially sticky points or pressure points within a routine.

Beyond central location behavioral assessments, consumers can be recruited for at-home exploration especially when larger sample sizes are preferred. In addition, groundbreaking applications, such as smart-speaker technology (i.e. Amazon’s Alexa) can be leveraged to help better understand and quantify behaviors. The benefits of smart-speaker technology is that it allows us to collect data in-the-moment, at-home, when our hands are otherwise occupied- think cooking, personal care routines, or securing a wiggling baby perhaps. Smart speakers can help us understand duration and frequency of behaviors within a given routine.

When both behavioral approaches are complimented with traditional self-reported insights, we can develop a deeper understanding of consumer routines and habits and how packages fit into those routines. Functionality and optimization of those packages are brought to the forefront, thus creating behaviorally-driven package designs that support consumers’ daily routines and habits.

Optimizing Design:

While a behaviorally-driven design is vital, the package real estate, messaging, graphics and claims must also be carefully considered to encourage and secure that place in a consumer’s routine. The communication and creative development process for a package can be no short of extensive at times.

Traditional tools for prioritizing consumer needs for a product category, such as MaxDiff, and psychological methods for uncovering perceptions, such as Implicit Association Testing, help ensure the right message for your brand is being conveyed. Integrating these methods ensures an understanding of what is driving a consumer and how these needs are currently being fulfilled (or not fulfilled) by the brand.

Uncovering implicit and automatic perceptions along the development process help to develop a deeper understanding of who you are as a brand and where white space opportunities are available in the product category.

Going further and ensuring that this communication strategy is being seen is crucial to making a meaningful impact with your consumers. Simple tools such as eye tracking, whether in person or online, can uncover how a consumer is navigating your pack and what is being seen or not seen.

Insights from eye tracking help optimize package layout and identify winning packaging variations that will work hard and efficiently for the brand to convey promises and expectations for the consumers.

In-Environment Success:

Of course, all of the above stated methods mean nothing if consumers do not see or cannot find your product on the shelf or online! Confirming your package can break through the clutter and competition and can be found easily by shoppers is the gateway to enhancing their experience with the product.

Leveraging behavioral coding and eye tracking allow us to uncover shopping behaviors and how the consumer naturally navigates an aisle environment when shopping for a specific product category or shopping for a specific product SKU. Eye-tracking and behavioral coding allow us to quantify and compare package performance by revealing metrics such as time to first fixation on the pack, how long the pack was looked at, touched or purchased. Furthermore, it tells about natural paths of navigation in a given environment, visual attention ‘vampires,’ and when paired with self-reported qualitative feedback, is able to provide understanding of the cognitive take-aways from the shopping experience.

Whether your love story starts with the catch of the eye or careful consideration, leveraging methods from applied behavioral neuroscience, such as eye tracking, behavioral coding, implicit testing, smart-speaker technology and more, can help you put the consumer at the center of behaviorally-driven designs, ensure messaging is being seen, consumer needs are being fulfilled, and ensure your package can break through the noise and be found with ease.

For more on HCD’s take on Packaging Research with the consumer in mind, register and tune into our upcoming webinar, “Products, Promises, & Packaging, Oh my!” on November 17th at 12PM EST with Executive VP, Marcella Markman, and Director of Global Research, Allison Gutkowski at the link here.



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