Effective Research for Structural Packaging Innovation
By Gail Ritacco

myths and realities of consumer research.
In today’s “consumer-is-king” age, packaging designers and engineers are partnering with insights professionals to identify and deliver actionable solutions against unmet consumer needs. Their ultimate goal? To delight the end user in form, style and function.
However, forging a partnership between creative designers and pragmatic consumer researchers takes time, perseverance and two-way communication. And it requires openness to the perspectives of different disciplines and functions. Let’s begin by dispelling a few myths …
Myth: We need creative consumers to generate creative ideas.
Reality: Most consumers are not innately creative and cannot provide new ideas for packaging; it is difficult for them to know the possibilities. You should not look for consumers to be creative, but to be open and honest and to provide direction on the ideas you share with them. Consumers can also provide you with a list of desired functional and aesthetic attributes. The solutions, however, should be left to the professionals.
Myth: Consumer research impedes the innovation process.
Reality: Appropriately planned and timed research can inform, focus and maximize creative efforts. To ensure a high probability of success, it is important to check in with consumers at appropriate points in the process. Without research, designers are left to draw on their own experiences and sensibilities, which may or may not align with the target consumer.
Myth: Traditional focus groups are appropriate tools to inform the design process.
Reality: Anyone who has sat behind the mirror would agree that focus groups can be surreal and do not always yield true-to-life insights. Consumers in this group situation are prone to “knee jerk” reactions and “group speak”. Often consumers cannot recall or do not know how they really feel about an experience with a package. New-to-the-world packages don’t often provide an associative frame of reference. The pressure of time, the natural instinct to try to fit into the group and/or please the moderator, to be too easily influenced by a dominant member of the group, and a strong need to justify an earlier statement that might not be founded, can lead to misinformation.
You can avoid such conflicts with focus groups if you set up the discussion guide and focus the room environment to reenact true-to-life scenarios. It is important that consumers naturally and silently interact with the packaging concepts without the pressure and bias of group opinion, commit reactions to paper, and then openly discuss. Furthermore, by collaborating with designers and making use of their communication and rapid prototyping techniques, consumers can drive design iterations.
Myth: Concept testing is an appropriate tool to determine whether an idea should move forward.
Reality: Marketers often have the need to quantify concepts to justify funding for exploration. In cases where the structural packaging concept is a known format (e.g., carton, tray or bottle), a 2D photo may suffice, and a typical concept test may be effective. However, if there is a functional promise or a never-seen-before structural innovation, the packaging might require a multi-sensory functional prototype to ensure that it is fully understood. Working with designers helps ensure that the appropriate level of concept manifestation is provided. Remember, the adage, “garbage in, garbage out” holds true.
Myth: Online research is not appropriate for structural concepts.
Reality: When used appropriately, the Internet can be a goldmine of insights for 3D designs. As more and more consumers begin recording their thoughts and behaviors online—through video diaries, digital photos and blogs—the Internet can serve as a window to their usage experiences, occasions, thoughts and emotions. This setting allows for candid observations in the moment of use/consumption without the unnatural pressures of being actively observed or rushed to fit a focus group timetable.
Once you clear the myths of consumer research, you are more likely to ensure collaboration between the creative and research disciplines and to enrich the effectiveness of the innovation toolbox. Remember that each discipline involved in the process has the common goal of marketplace success; when we combine and/or inform each others’ efforts, we can build better tools, and yield better results … for a better future.
This is the first in a series of articles by Gail Ritacco. Gail is vice president of market insights at Product Ventures, a creative agency for structural packaging innovation. As former leader of Market Research at Dannon, Gail has more than 20 years of consumer insights experience across quantitative, qualitative, syndicated, corporate and consultancy. In upcoming articles she will share experiences and recommendations for more effective research techniques for structural packaging innovation. Contact Gail at gritacco@productventures.com