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The last time it happened to me was last summer: I was looking for a specific soft drink 24-pack in the grocery store. Even though I was where I felt I should be I simply couldn't find the product I was looking for. Eventually, I asked an employee for help (yes, some men do that) and the person took me to EXACTLY where we were standing and pointed to the product - it turned out the pack design had changed. The lesson: if your product doesn't stand out on-shelf, it may as well not exist - especially when so many alternatives exist and shopping time is precious. Add to that the fact that, in my case, my purchase decision was already made but I still couldn't find the product.

We often get asked by clients to help them research which package designs for products consumers "like best". When this happens, we have to educate some clients that package testing is a lot more than a beauty contest.

Proper package testing involves several critical, complementary components:

  • Fast turnaround: We recommend that as soon as packaging changes become a discussion point for businesses that testing takes place quickly to determine what, if any effects, changes in packaging may have on the consumer. We also discuss how with many aspects of research (and business in general), technology is transforming the space and speed of insights becomes crucial. Without speed, brands won't be able to maintain advantages and minimize risk.
  • Rational benefits: In a nutshell, does the packaging communicate specific product benefits (such as "great taste", "easy to use", etc.).
  • Emotional benefits: What emotions the brand wants the product and package to communicate (such as "togetherness" or "high quality").
  • Shelf pop: How well the product stands out on shelf relative to the competition.
  • Virtual Eye Tracking: What elements of the package catch the eye of the shopper, in what order, and 'Why'. Many times, clients are also interested in what elements of the package consumers like most, least, or find confusing, but the 'Why' allows them to refine their design and/or messaging appropriately to make a more consumer-friendly final package design.
  • Performance in a competitive setting: This allows us to understand how the product will actually get picked up and purchased relative to other test package designs, and the competition. Through virtual shopping research our clients can see how the new packaging will perform on-shelf prior to going through any formal changes to the manufacturing process. These studies not only show how products will perform, but also alleviate concerns about losing sales by alienating current loyal customers with the proposed new packaging.
  • Easy to understand results: Research and brand teams need to be able to easily digest and act upon the data. Ideally, the data should be presented in creative ways that make refinement and activation as easy and fast as possible.

If any of these elements are missing, a company can't really get the full picture of how a package might perform on-shelf. For instance, if you remove Virtual Eye Tracking from a package test project, a company might not understand how to potentially refine the packaging before going into production. Or, if you remove how the product performs on shelf, you might have a great-looking package, but won't know if it performs better or worse than the current packaging until it gets in store. Finally, if a Brand Manager or Design team can't understand the results of the research and therefore don't know how to refine a package design to make it better, they may go back to picking a design that they like best, regardless of how it performed in the test.

We strongly advocate that companies perform a comprehensive package testing approach before ever putting products on-shelf, as it maximizes their design and refinement process, while minimizing risk - all for a fraction of the cost of making a mistake on shelf. I'm sure no company wants to repeat the stories we've all read about companies making drastic package changes that have ended up confusing shoppers as to whether a product is diet or not, or even worse alienating loyalists because they felt packaging "cheapened" the product.

Click here to learn more about our package testing approach.

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