Leveraging Qualitative Research to Inspire and Focus Package Design

May 22, 2008

Leveraging Qualitative Research to Inspire and Focus Package Design

Published in Brand Packaging
Getting it Right | May 2008

By Gail Ritacco, Product Ventures VP Consumer and Market Research

In a very broad scale of thinking, research for package design can be divided into two areas: quantitative research and qualitative research. Stripped down to the basics, quantitative research gets you to the “what”, “where” and “when” of decision making, while qualitative research helps uncover the “why” behind consumer behaviors. And whenever you ask “why”, you foster creativity.

So why and how do we leverage this approach when innovating products and packaging?

We all know that any successful innovation begins by identifying consumer wants and needs. From that learning, we generate a range of product and package ideas.  We build and refine the ideas that have the most merit, and ultimately validate our ideas in a large-scale test before launch.

Qualitative research can help identify those needs and wants early on by letting youobserve and interact with consumers in the context of use.

Start on the Internet. The web offers new opportunities for sharing in-depth information and ideas. It allows consumers to share on their own terms and in their own time.  Web sites or communities created around special interests give consumers a comfortable forum to exchange opinions, thoughts and views about a particular topic.  Within the online environment, consumer blogs provide a means for consumers to chronicle their behavior by keeping a journal, and by using pictures or video. This information exchange can be the foundation for understanding wants and needs.

Observe and interact with the use occasion.  Contextual interviews, either in home, in store, in cars or at the workplace, allow designers and research professionals to observe behavior in the moment of use or consumption. Armed with insights from these observations, this venue can also allow consumers to experience a variety of package and product platforms in their environment of use. Interacting with rough stimuli empowers target users to think outside their frame of reference, imagine the possibilities and begin to experience the “what can be” where it matters most.

Video diaries created by consumers, also in the context of use, allow them to candidly express their thoughts and for us to anonymously view their behavior. The building of this learning provides the foundation for the creative framework that will ultimately be a solution that fulfills consumers’ needs. This deeper understanding of needs and wants allows designers actionable guideposts for future stimuli creation and evolution. 

How does qualitative research help translate needs and wants into a creative product solution or path?

Give the consumer a seat at the table. Engaging with “trained panels” comprised of individuals who are highly articulate provides true collaborative consumer input to the creative process. Consumers have a seat at the brainstorming table, alongside designers, research professionals, engineers and manufacturing professionals, to lend their perspective to ideas that are generated.

Give experts in and out of the category a seat at the table. One-on-one interactions with experts in the field bring richness and out-of-the-box thinking to the design process.

Allow consumers to interact with and react to upstream ideas. Interactive workshops with 3D stimuli provide creative thinking around key areas of opportunity, revealing undiscovered options or a newly considered combination of features. Based on the package design platforms generated from the needs and wants identification, consumers are able to interact with 3D stimuli and show designers how to evolve these designs to better satisfy them in areas related to the cycle of use, from purchase through disposal. The richness of witnessing consumer interaction with the stimuli, combined with in-depth probing of wants and needs, inspires designers to sketch possible iterations that can optimize the experience. This process not only helps to inspire design, it helps focus design in terms of preferred structures, features and package benefits.

Idea development…how do you create the “gotta have it”?

Identify the emotional connection. Emotional motivators play a greater role than rational motivators in most consumer purchase decisions. The challenge is to incorporate these emotional connections visually into designs that call out to consumers on shelf. 

How do we understand those underlying emotional triggers? One way is laddering. Done in person with small groups of consumers, laddering is an in-depth technique to understand how consumers translate a product’s attributes with respect to self. It starts with a functional benefit and, with deep probing, gets to the underlying emotional reason why a functional benefit emotionally connects with the consumer in a personal, relevant manner. The technique provides rich direction on the emotional connections and aesthetics to designers and the overall team.

Another qualitative method to inspire design is generating consumer-directed visual language. Consumers collage images that express the emotional connections as well as attributes and values inherent to the brand or category. They are prompted by a series of images and asked to relate one of the images to a particular word, phrase or brand. The results provide designers with clear direction of the nuances, colors, textures and visuals that will communicate the emotional benefits intended for the brand. Building on insights from earlier workshops, these directions fuel refinements and allow designers to integrate visual cues that communicate the desired emotions.

The qualitative research box is chock full of tools to inform, focus and direct upstream creative package development and lead to actionable solutions.

So, to recap, how can you best leverage qualitative research to inspire and focus creative package design?

• Gain an in-depth understanding of wants and needs.

• Interpret those wants and needs into stimuli that allow for rich and deep dialogue with consumers.

• Look for insights in different places or from different situations.

• Understand the visual interpretations of emotional connections.

Designs that connect with consumers on functional and emotional levels will ultimately be in-market successes. BP


Gail Ritacco is vice president of market insights at Product Ventures, a creative agency for structural packaging innovation. As former leader ofMarket Research at Dannon, Gail has more than 20 years of consumer insights experience across quantitative, qualitative, syndicated, corporate and consultancy. Contact Gail at gritacco@productventures.com.

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