Three Secrets to Product Success
by Tom Allen

  • Package Testing
    The late Lord Harold Samuel is attributed with the expression “There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.” Of course, what he meant by that was that the location of a piece of real estate was critical to its value in the minds of potential buyers. I’d like to paraphrase Lord Samuel and say, “There are three secrets to consumer packaged goods’ success: packaging, packaging, packaging.”

Naturally, I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek. There are many factors that go into a successful product: efficacy, price, value, brand, distribution, advertising, competitive forces, etc. But when push comes to shove at the retail shelf, packaging can make or break a product. Brands need to ensure they are getting the most impact out of their packaging that they possibly can. How do they do that? With consumer research, of course!

To clarify, package research could involve either package structure – the form, material, and functionality of a product’s container – or it could involve the graphical, marketing elements of the package’s exterior. The latter is what I will be focusing on, as Jerry Thomas and I did in our Insider Series Webinar on Packaging Research Fundamentals (The video on the right side of the page).

Changing a brand’s package graphics generally works best when done in moderation. Making too great of a change to a brand’s color scheme or logo treatment could have negative consequences as consumers struggle to find their beloved brand on the shelf and decide to purchase something else instead. Brands that conduct package research in advance of making such a change would understand what the risks are and be able to make wise, informed decisions.

Refining the creative process down from 20 or more early-stage package design choices to a winning final selection likely involves a multi-step process.

Package Research Creative Funnel

Early-stage designs need to be winnowed down quickly and efficiently, and online research can accommodate that by showing 10 or so designs at a time to 100 or 150 consumers in an online survey. In this manner, utilizing an experimental block design and a survey that focuses on 2-3 key metrics, companies can quickly and efficiently get feedback on 20 to 30 package designs.

Generally, the first stage would cut the number of possible package designs by half or two-thirds, leaving several viable design options still in the running. Depending on time and budget, a middle-stage survey could more thoroughly evaluate the remaining designs in a sequential monadic approach (also utilizing an experimental block design to assign packages to respondents in an even and controlled manner). More often than not, however, brands are more likely to move directly into final-stage package testing, and that’s absolutely okay.

Online consumer research is again the most efficient way to obtain diagnostic feedback on final-stage package designs. In-person shelf-set testing is likely more effective, but it requires tremendous resource outlays up front and is more expensive and geographically restrictive. For those reasons, it is less recommended than online consumer surveys. Key measures that are critical to understanding a package’s likelihood to succeed at shelf include the following:

  • Attention Value – how likely are consumers to notice the package or brand?
  • Purchase Interest – would consumers buy the brand based on the package?
  • Brand Fit – does the package go with the consumer’s impression of the brand?
  • Image Projection – what does the package communicate about the brand to the consumer?

Additional factors can be used within a package survey to further enhance its diagnostic capabilities, such as eye tracking and/or facial-action coding (FAC). Choice-modeling could also be used in situations where certain competitive and/or pricing effects would need to be controlled for and evaluated in a virtual shelf set. Speaking of, more simplistic simulated shelf sets can be easily created to allow consumers to view packages in a competitive context as part of an online survey. There are lots of ways to conduct package research, so it is best to discuss your needs with an expert who knows how to tailor a methodology to fit your budget and objectives.

So whether you have developed a great line extension, a brand new product, or simply just want to refresh the face of your brand, be sure to include the time and budget to effectively test your design(s) with consumers. Remember, the three secrets to success for consumer packaged goods are packaging, packaging, packaging!

About the Author

Tom Allen ( is a Senior Vice President at Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


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