Part 3: Quantifying the potential impact of your packaging innovation
Changing your packaging is not an insignificant task and carries some risk. Consumers become accustomed to branding and changing how your package looks can actually hurt recognition, or even turn them off to your product. Likewise, functional or material changes can impact the consumer experience. Therefore it is important to test changes to your packaging to ensure that the changes improve recognition and convince consumers to choose your product over the others.
Simulating the shopping experience with a shelf test
As discussed in part 1, shoppers generally do not spend a lot of time studying a category before choosing a product to buy. In fact, we referenced a study that used eye-tracking technology with shoppers in a grocery store to measure shoppers’ attention to packaging and in-store media. Across the three categories that were studied, shoppers spent on average just 0.6 - 1.0 seconds looking at any given product while shopping. The need to grab attention and stand out on the shelf is frequently a goal of package innovation. The best way to test this is through a shelf test. In this test, one group of consumers is exposed to the current shelf set while another group is exposed to the the same set with the new packaging design replacing the current one. If there is more than one new packaging design, each new design would be tested with another group of consumers. Consumers are instructed to shop the category and to make any purchases they normally would. After shopping the shelf, consumers are asked which brands they remember seeing. Additional diagnostics can then be collected after the shopping exercise by forcing exposure to your packaging and following up with diagnostic questions (likes, dislikes, etc.)
By comparing the percentage of consumers who identify your brand on the shelf with the new packaging to those who identify it on the shelf with the old packaging, you can learn whether the new packaging improves recognition on the shelf. More importantly, you can compare how many consumers purchase your product in the shopping exercise to determine whether improved recognition leads to additional sales. Generally, if these measures are not improved, the investment in new package branding is not deemed worthwhile.
This type of test can be done in store or using a virtual store set up in a central location, and the shoppers are frequently fitted with mobile eye-tracking devices which will help measure whether the packaging breaks through on the shelf and draws shoppers’ attention. But in-store and virtual store testing can get quite expensive, especially if there are multiple designs being tested. For this reason, shelf tests are commonly conducted online with market research panelists. There are several options for adding a virtual shopping exercise to your survey through a simple redirect link that can be added to your existing survey. Some of these also include eye-tracking capabilities through webcam monitoring or cursor tracking.
Collect deeper diagnostic information with a concept test
A simpler way to test packaging innovation online is through a concept test. This method does not include a virtual shopping exercise, but can still provide valuable input on recognition and purchase intent. In this test, consumers start by being exposed to a static image of the shelf for a few seconds, then are asked which brands they recognized on the shelf to get a measurement on breakthrough and recognition. A longer exposure follows and respondents are asked which products they would be most likely to purchase. A key benefit to the concept test approach is instead of spending time on a virtual shopping trip, it allows more time to collect diagnostic measures, like how the packaging impacts equity and value perceptions, for instance.
Like the shelf test, each package design (including the current one) is typically evaluated by separate groups of consumers (known as a monadic test).
Confirm functional improvements with a product test
A physical change in packaging can look good on paper, but the rubber hits the road when the consumer actually has the product in their hands. Whether it is a change in materials or an added functional improvement, if the packaging does not deliver on its promised improvement, repeat purchases can be negatively impacted.
To confirm that these changes are delivering the intended benefits, or in some cases (like a cost-saving initiative or changing to eco-friendly packaging) to ensure that they don’t detract from the consumer experience, a product test is should be used.
In a product test, category users are recruited using a basic concept test. Consumers are exposed to the concept to determine their openness to buying the product. Those who are open to it are then recruited to try the product. The product is then either shipped directly to the consumer to use at home as they normally would, or the consumer is invited to a testing facility to try it.
After the trial period, the consumer is sent a follow-up survey and asked whether they would buy the product if it was available to them. The rejection rate helps tell whether the product fulfilled on the promise of the concept. This is typically followed by a series of diagnostics which help determine any improvements that should be made before launching the new packaging (or re-testing it if it performed worse than the current packaging).
Product testing is vital for major packaging innovation where consumers’ experience with the product is impacted. In some cases, it is useful to ship both the current packaging (or even a competitor’s product) and the new packaging so consumers have more context on the change. In those cases, the consumer can be directly asked their preference between the two options.
Controlling for biases
It is important to note that care must be taken in choosing consumers to evaluate your packaging innovations. For instance, in product testing it is generally fruitless to recruit consumers who reject the concept because they are not likely to ever try your product. When conducting a monadic test with separate groups evaluating each concept, it is important that the groups are very similar, demographically and by category behavior (e.g., heaviness of category use and brand usage). If the groups are skewed by age, for instance, differences in results could actually reflect generational perceptions and behaviors rather than the result of the packaging change.