The Critical Role Of Qualitative Research In Packaging Screening

Our Series: Packaging Design Gold Standards

Welcome to our continuing Packaging Design Gold Standards Series, where we're about to take you on a journey through the fascinating world of qualitative packaging screening. Here you’ll learn the essential dos and don'ts that can transform your packaging game, whether you're a seasoned pro or just diving into the realm of packaging exploration.

The Power of Context 

Let's start with the heart of qualitative packaging screening – the stimuli. It's not just about showcasing creative packaging options; it's also about the context in which they're presented to your participants. Think of packaging, for a second, like a Broadway star on stage. It’s easy to think it’s all about the star, but the stage plays an instrumental role, too. Having the right context is a critical factor that influences how consumers perceive your packaging designs.

Striking the Right Balance 

When it comes to test designs, remember that quality trumps quantity. It's easy to get carried away with presenting a plethora of options, but the risk is that too many choices can lead to participant fatigue rather than genuine excitement.

So, what's the magic number?

Aim to expose each participant or group to around 4-5 creative routes. This sweet spot strikes a balance between offering variety and avoiding the paradox of choice. 

Embracing Creative Diversity 

Now, here's where things get interesting. Those innovative, boundary-pushing designs you've got are not just meant for testing. They're your secret agents for decoding category trends, exploring brand extensions, and discovering the potential of groundbreaking designs. They're your gateway to shaping the future of your brand. 

To maximize your insights, consider diversifying your test designs. Think of it as providing your design team with a rich palette of perspectives to draw from. By embracing this diversity, you set the stage for a wealth of insights and ideas that can fuel your packaging's evolution. 

The Weight of Context  

Context, as it turns out, holds significant sway in packaging design perceptions. Think of it as the environment that your packaging calls ‘Home.’ How your design stands out among competitors' products matters just as much as the design itself. If you're pressed for time and resources to create a complete shelf layout, don't fret. You can still introduce a small selection of category products into your testing environment. After all, qualitative research is all about exploring possibilities, not evaluating shelf metrics. 

Investing in shelf development during the qualitative phase pays huge dividends down the line, as these efforts set the stage for more robust quantitative validation in the future.

Unveiling System 1's Secrets 

Let's talk about System 1 – the unfiltered, instinctive part of human decision-making; and the unsung hero of consumer insights. System 2, on the other hand, is the analytical part of our brains, the one that overthinks things. When it comes to packaging screening, System 1 is where the real magic happens. It's the realm of true reactions and genuine emotions, untainted by the need to provide "correct" and justified answers. 

So, as you venture into qualitative packaging screening, make friends with System 1 techniques. They should be your trusty sidekicks throughout the process, contributing to about half of the time you spend engaging with potential consumers. 

Remember, sometimes actions speak louder than words, especially in cultures where direct verbal communication isn't the norm. The absence of a reaction can speak volumes, indicating potential issues like poor visibility or a lack of brand recognition. 

See examples how to bring more System 1 into analysis via Semiotics, Flash Exposure and Mobile Eye-Tracking, below.

The Road Less Travelled: Exploration Beyond Packaging 

Think of packaging screening as an adventure – an opportunity to explore not only the design itself but also its place in the grand scheme of things. It's about understanding how your packaging fits into the broader brand narrative – especially in your consumers’ lives - and how it communicates its intended message. 

Positioning concepts come into play here – they provide insight into how well your new design aligns with your brand positioning and broader communication goals. But be sure to break through the surface and delve deeper into the execution of on-pack communications. Experiment with placement, size, color, orientation, claims, etc. Think of it as fine-tuning the details that can make or break a design. 

And why stop there? Expand your horizons by homing in on shopping behaviors, usage habits, and the consumer's perceptions of your brand. How? By incorporating digital tasks that provide a richer context before you dive into the main fieldwork – collecting insights via mobile phone documenting specific behaviours or broader exploratory tasks utilizing online communities approach (if you are interested to know more about the power of online communities you can find more information here.

Learning From Your Competition and Beyond 

When it comes to learning, who better to turn to than the competition? Listen to the stories told by brands and the packaging examples referenced by consumers. What are the stories that consumers say about your competitors? Study the best practices within your category and beyond. 

And still, the learning doesn't stop there. Consider bringing additional marketing mix elements into your packaging exploration. Offer product tasting sessions as part of your evaluation process. Experiment with different merchandising scenarios and benchmark your prices against the competition. The more comprehensive your approach, the more rounded your insights will be. 

Designing the Study: Beyond Age and Gender 

Now, let's dive into the nitty-gritty of structuring your study. While age is often a go-to demographic, it's important to remember that lifestyles matter more than numbers. Think about it – someone in their 40s can have more in common with someone in their 30s than with someone from their own age bracket. Lifestyle groups, such as pre-family, families with kids, and empty nesters, provide a more insightful lens to view your participants through. 

The Art of Sequence: Unveiling the Designs 

Imagine your designs as actors on a stage, each waiting for their cue. The sequence in which they appear matters more than you might think. It's not just about who comes first, but who follows and who comes next. This sequence can influence perceptions and even sway participants' preferences. 

Don't just let your designs speak once; let them have an encore. Exposing each design at least twice allows you to capture a more accurate picture of their impact. And when analyzing the results, keep the sequence in mind. The first design seen often has an advantage, but it's not a guaranteed win. 

Supercharging the Study: Modules of Insight 

Now, let's take it up a notch with some advanced techniques. Semiotics, for instance, can help you decipher emerging codes within the category. It's like having a crystal ball that shows you what will be relevant in the years to come. 

Ever wondered what sticks in consumers' minds after a quick glance?

Flash exposure helps you capture those elements that register in their minds within a short span of time. 

Mobile eye tracking takes you on a journey through the shelf space. Discover the areas that draw attention, understand category engagement, and uncover what makes designs stand out. 

Social listening is like tuning in to a candid conversation among real consumers. It's your window into trends, habits, and unfiltered opinions – sometimes painful but honest ones - to know where to elevate your proposition next. 

And don't forget Experts’ point of views – they're the compass guiding your research. Expert interviews provide valuable insights that ensure your initiatives are spot-on for the market, economy, and consumer trends.

But don't limit experts’ views to a particular field of knowledge like packaging innovation engineers or social trends academics. Speak to influencers from social media, journalists writing about consumption trends or even marketing leaders across sectors to bring fresh perspective to your potential future strategies. 

Beyond Research: The Magic of Packaging 

Here's the bottom line: qualitative packaging screening isn't a hunt for the ultimate winner. It's a journey of discovery that reveals the packaging elements capable of transforming your design into a shelf superstar. These insights shape not only your packaging but also your success story. 

If you're itching for more insights into how to rock packaging screening with the finesse of a pro, reach out to our teams across markets to discover the secrets of our PackLab™ service – the ultimate packaging exploration experience. Get ready to take your packaging game to the next level!





Anna Ganzha - Head of EU Qualitative avatar

Anna Ganzha - Head of EU Qualitative