We’ve all been there, standing in the store, staring at a row of phones or drills or ovens or tubes of toothpaste, trying to decide which one to buy. So many choices. So many features. So many similarities. It’s confusing, overwhelming and it doesn’t always end well—for consumers or for brands.

Products can be designed to create consumer engagement and involvement. This is an investment that satisfies consumers, creates loyalty and commands a premium. But brands today don’t often articulate unique claims in ways that are clear to the consumer, even when they have technologies that allow better messaging. So the question becomes: How can brands resonate with consumers to rise above the din?

The answer: It requires a fresh, experiential approach to product and package innovation.

Lost in Translation

Consumers experience products and packages with all senses. How a product looks, feels, speaks and acts signals what kind of experience consumers will have, how they will feel and what the brand ultimately stands for. But while most companies seek to differentiate through a brand’s promise, pillars and core values, they struggle with what these truly mean to consumers and how to deliver it in the design of the product or package.

Many brands miss the opportunity to create meaning at these critical moments of truth between products and people. They leave the direct connection between consumer desires and packaging characteristics to chance — with consumers in the aisle unsure about which product to choose. While the packaging design elements may be well executed, what they communicate may not match up with what consumers are looking for — creating an indecision or experience gap and an opportunity for competitive brands to step in. Closing that gap means aligning a product’s sensory cues with consumers’ desired experience — a consumer-driven design semantics approach that allows brands to resonate with consumers at every touch point along the brand journey.  connecting with consumers  through sensory memory

Successful products and brands close the gap by connecting experiential consumer desires in a tangible way to the design language of the product or package. For example, a transparent package can communicate the honest or natural qualities of the product inside; the softness and gentle sound of a baby wipes package signals the sensitive care it delivers. More than metaphor, these products and packages communicate instantly by tapping into a kind of sensory memory—automatically signaling that this brand and product will deliver on the experience the consumer desires with the functional and emotional benefits they value. 

The Anatomy of an Ideal Experience

It’s a myth that consumers can’t tell you what they want. While they can’t tell you what to make, they can be very articulate about their aspirations, desires and the experiences they want  to have.

Using projective or co-creation design research approaches, we can discover desires and connect them systematically to the attributes of the product or package in a way that creates meaning for consumers. By designing with — and not just for — consumers, companies like P&G, Con Agra, Lowe’s and Pfizer are finding they can discover aspirations and define and map the brand’s core values to the package, dispenser and product in a way that resonates with consumers.

This ideal experience is like a layer cake that connects emotions through benefits delivered by way of features and embodied in the product or package’s sensory attributes. Using a multi-sensory stimulus language including words, images, smells, sounds and materials, brands uncover the experiences people want to have and map them the attributes of the product and the package in order to signal and deliver the desired experience.


Trends come and go. Experiences begin and end emotionally. People’s aspirations are the bedrock to which companies can anchor a brand’s core values. 


Emotions or aspirations are delivered through the benefits that a product provides. These are conveyed through the brand touch points like the package.


Benefits are delivered through the functional capabilities of the product.


Attributes are the tangible, sensory characteristics of the product or package, like how it looks and acts, the way it operates. These characteristics signal the features, benefits and, ultimately, the emotions that customers will feel. 

A New Way of Designing  for the Human Experience

In the end, product and packaging challenges are usually not about a lack of ideas. Almost every organization has a treasure trove of ideas but, without a clear understanding of what problem or opportunity they are solving for consumers, it’s difficult to know which ideas should move forward. What companies need are better ideas fueled by a clear framework of what consumers seek. These experience frameworks can help companies define the opportunities, align teams, inspire resonant ideas and provide a better means to evaluate new concepts against the competition. In short, they provide confidence and clarity to product and package design programs.

The old ways of understanding consumers for product and package design aren’t working. By taking a more experience-centered approach to understanding everyday experiences we can help brands connect consumer desires to their product and package experiences — at every touch point along the consumer journey. We can bring consumer behaviors and desires to life in a way that’s actionable for every function in the organization from brand messaging and the package to the research and development of the product — aligning global teams with a clear vision for consumer experience. The result is a product pipeline and roadmap of innovation that is driven by consumer desires — leading to successful brand differentiation, meaningful value delivery and market success of new products and services.


Case Study:

creating a (billion-dollar) brand that meets consumers’ needs

P&G’s Oral Care team was challenged to create a disruptive innovation for the global market. Using self-documentation, in-home observation and ideal experience (co-creation) exercises, the team was able to uncover consumers’ attitudes and emotions about health and appearance related oral care. More than just brushing teeth, the team explored how consumers wanted to take care of their mouths.

Using co-creation techniques and systematic data analysis and synthesis, the team was able to bring each segment’s desired experiences to life. Clear, experiential definitions to commonly misunderstood words like “clean” and “healthy” were discovered and brought to life. The team also discovered revealing differences between market segments, and  developed a well-defined experiential framework to shape ideas. These insights were used to develop the package design and development of three mega-properties: Crest Pro-Health, Complete and 3D White — which has now become a billion-dollar brand.

The collaborative nature of this process and the rigor of the results gave P&G the confidence to realign global teams, so that everyone — from product development, R&D and chemists to marketing and advertising — became integral to delivering a part of the experience.