Forum 2018: Using Packaging Design to Tame Consumer Behavior

There are a number of elements to consider when it comes to packaging design—consumer preference and behavior, market research and brand owner considerations are some of the biggest. How is one design chosen over another, and how can flexographers meet their clients’ expectations?

Forum 2018 Taming Consumer Behavior 1
From left: Jason Troutman, Jerry Thomas, Michael John, Jason Edelen

Forum 2018 session “Taming Consumer Behavior Through Packaging Design,” chaired by Kevin Bourquin of Cyber Graphics and Dawn Connell of Snyder’s-Lance, included a panel of industry experts—Jason Edelen from We Are Alexander, Michael John from 3M, Jerry Thomas from Decision Analyst and Jason Troutman from 3M—that discussed why brand owners make certain choices, the value of customer research and the role of flexographers in the whole process.

The panel began by analyzing the types of questions that need to be addressed in the early stages of a package’s design or re-design, with the ultimate goal of understanding the product’s role in a consumer’s life. Using potato chips as an example, Jerry noted their characteristics (nutritional aspects, tactility, mouth-feel, taste), their “symbolic benefits” (status, a reinforcing of self-image, indication of tribal affiliation), ability to serve as a type of comfort food, and various other potential physical and psychological benefits.

The more we know about how the product is used, and how much time people are interacting with the product and the package, the better prepared we are to design or re-design its package, Jerry said, posing another set of questions geared toward consumers:

  • Who uses the product?
  • Who are its heaviest users?
  • When do they use it?
  • Where do they use it?
  • With what else do they use it?
  • How do they use it?

The life of the package itself must also be considered—for instance, how long does the package stay in use after purchase? Is it thrown away immediately or saved? And how is the product acquired? Returning to the potato chip example, the panel posed considerations for various purchasing avenues: If they are bought online, then the package’s copy and design elements must be visible on a computer or smartphone screen; if they are bought in a store, then where are they expected to be found, and how do they stand out from other potato chips positioned nearby?

Forum 2018 Taming Consumer Behavior 2Brand identification questions are also important to address, the panel noted, like what design elements differentiate the package designs, and what design elements play a major role in package recognition?

As a package is redesigned, there is always a chance it will stumble into conflict with other package designs, and Jerry noted that is why it’s important to include examples from major competitors in the research process. “We have to somehow distinguish our product from those other products,” he said.

This line of thinking segued into the next challenge in a design or re-design: Understanding the target brand compared to its major competitors, how consumers think and feel about the product, and how consumers are connected to the brand. Any existing research methods or data on the brand should be reviewed. To obtain new research, the panel suggested depth interviews. The depth interview, a one-on-one, in-person session that lasts an hour or more,  is the “workhorse method” for packaging research.

The depth interview, which should be conducted and analyzed by external professionals, relies on non-directive techniques, projective techniques like telling stories, drawing pictures, etc., and deception (the true purpose of the interview may be kept secret). Packages can be shown, store displays can be set up, and the interviewer can observe facial reactions and body language.

All of this preparation and information gathering—deemed the initiation phase—leads to the briefing phase, where designers can pre-visualize ideas, sketch out skeletons of ideas and develop frameworks which can be built upon later—or discarded entirely.

Forum 2018 Taming Consumer Behavior 3A design is often better with parameters, Jason Troutman said, but convincing your team to move forward with more exciting concepts means feeding ideas to them as early as possible.

When it comes time to review the final approved creative brief with the design team, identify challenges for strategic problem solving, use the brief to measure the effectiveness of designers’ work and establish technical guardrails before creative work starts in the development phase.

During development, those creatives will brainstorm, collaborate, use the design brief, refine and, finally, present their work internally to stakeholders. Sharing artwork with internal stakeholders at this stage, when its typically conceptual, can help to validate and build. The panel implored that if there is an affinity to any one direction, there is an opportunity to apply technical guidance to ensure the final product remains a viable solution and is achievable on press.

“Kill your darlings—You can’t do something because you like it. You have to be as objective as possible,” Jason Edelen admitted.

After all of this is complete, artwork review should involve the following:

  • Brand: Are designs not only a good solution for business objectives, but also compliant with standards? Do they work with existing brand portfolios or product lineups?
  • Strategy: Are designs aligned with the agreed-upon strategy from the brief?
  • Creative: Are the designs aesthetically excellent?
  • Technical: Can the designs print and if not, what are possible solutions to achieve printability?

Finally, the design is ready to be presented to the client. What they see during this presentation should be as close as possible to what will be on shelf. Once the design process is completed, research will help in choosing the package that will perform the best.

“We are not trying to find which pack is the prettiest or most appealing, we are trying to find the package that will sell the most potato chips,” Jerry said.

Wrapping up, the panel offered general guidelines for package testing:

  • The package should be tested in a display containing major competitive packages. The goal is to outperform those major competitors
  • The larger the market share and the greater the sales, the higher the risks. So, tailor sample sizes to the risk. For a small brand, a sample size of 200 or 300 may be sufficient. For a large brand, a sample size of 500 or even 1,000 may be called for
  • Each package design to be tested is seen only by one sample of respondents
  • Insofar as possible, the package design should be displayed in a way that looks like or simulates the way it will be presented in its major, primary channels of distribution
  • The decision criteria: How much will each package design influence market share and sales?
  • Always include the existing package, if applicable, in the final test as a control, or benchmark—Even though there may be bias in favor of an existing package that’s been around for a while, it’s still a good measuring stick