Have you ever judged a book by its cover? Sure you have. When you’re looking at books, either in a store or online, the cover design, artwork, font choices and images all have an impact on your perception. Does this book look fresh or old? Does it look youthful or mature? Does it look trustworthy? Does it look valuable?
Just as a book’s cover is its packaging, product packaging gives us clues about what may be inside. It conveys a resonance — for good or ill — about how this product aligns with our interests, desires and values. These are the things that make us curious, that make us decide to pick this product — this book — over many others. Here’s a quick tour of the potential risks and important concepts in choosing just the right “cover” for a product.
Packaging Research for Risk Reduction
To any marketing professional, product packaging is a very challenging topic. Whether it’s a bottle of shampoo, a box of cereal, or an eBook, each has some type of packaging, and is therefore subject to the following risks:
- Confusion: Your packaging could be too similar to a competitor’s and thus cause confusion on the shelf, whether that shelf is physical or virtual.
- Low visual appeal: It may be unattractive to the target market.
- Inadvertent messaging: Your packaging could convey an unintended value or promise.
The last point about messaging is really important. Small clues, even things like color and image choice, can say a lot about a product. And let’s face it, most consumers are very busy—they are unlikely to read the fine print on your product package, and will instead go with their gut impression. From a marketing standpoint, we want that first impression to be positive, and online consumer testing can help achieve that.
Consumer testing packaging concepts
Typically when designing packaging, we end up with a short list of concepts—perhaps two or three—that are under consideration. Consumer testing in this context involves testing these packaging concepts to gauge your target market’s reactions. It’s a great way to mitigate the risk of coming out with a package that makes one of the three errors we just described.
Testing real-world packages
In-person testing is ideal, but not practical, in many cases. As an alternative, an online survey can be used to visually display possible product packaging options to get consumer feedback. The survey questions can be designed to test how well the packaging conveys desired messages and values, and might look something like this:
- Initial Preference — At first exposure to the images, “Please rate the overall appeal of each of the following packaging designs,” followed by a 5 point scale from “Not at all appealing” to “Very appealing.” Instead of “appealing”, you could substitute “interesting” or “desirable”, depending on what you are hoping to achieve.
- Aesthetics — “Please rate the attractiveness of the following packaging designs,” followed by a 5 point scale from “Very unattractive” to “Very attractive.”
- Distinctiveness — “Please rate the distinctiveness of the following packaging designs followed by a 5 point scale from “Very ordinary” to “Very distinct.”
You can also ask your survey participants to do a simple word association. “Which of the following words describes this package design?” Follow this with a list of 7 very different words (include ones you would consider “good” and “bad” news), and have them pick up to three choices. This prioritization gives you important information.
Special Consideration: The Competition
Make sure you look at your competitors’ packaging. What types of packaging are your competitors using? Are they doing anything particularly innovative? How has packaging in your product category changed over the last five years? The shapes of packages, the use of recyclable materials, and the inclusion of windows so that the product can be seen easily in its packaging can all be significant.
If you’re a new entrant in a market with well-established players, it’s especially important to understand your competition. They may have effectively “trained” your target market to expect a certain type of packaging in your product category. That doesn’t mean you can’t come up with something even better (indeed, packaging can be a great innovation opportunity), but you should at least be aware of your market’s expectations.
Packaging Research Is Time Well Spent
In the final analysis, a good product — like a good book — has to succeed on its own merit. But it can only do that if you can get it into the customers’ hands in the first place. In the absence of other knowledge, it’s the packaging (the cover), that will draw them to your product rather than your competitions’. Time spent on packaging research is time well spent.