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New technology means we can keep the consumer's needs in focus

Fickle, irrational and totally unpredictable - isn't that what we are as consumers? To many, we're seen as an insurmountable problem in designing consumer packaging. But I wonder if there is now a light at the end of the tunnel?

Traditionally, only marketing ever talks to the consumer. That’s a problem in itself, but there is also a lack of a reliable method. The result is that often, packaging design is as much based on intuition as it is on evidence.

I remember hearing a director of Diageo illustrate the problem. The original (and expensive) market research for Baileys suggested the concept would never work. But the company had also carried out 10 pub trials, comparing trial sales with the anticipated competition of advocat. Baileys outsold the competition by 10 to one. Oops. Full credit to the board, though – it backed the almost trivial pub work and its own intuition and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s all good stuff for conference talks, but where does intuition usually get us? The evidence shows the result is usually a pretty inept market performance. How many times have you heard the tame excuse that focus groups don’t work – ‘but it’s all we have’?

I’m not sure that they are all we have. Do a Google search on consumer insights and it seems that sound science may be starting to fill the void. Companies are emerging with new processes, and new capabilities of capturing need, and even translating it into design concepts.

Our own Design Perspec-tives service is one, but there are many others. Moskowitz Jacobs provides a range of statistical tools for consumer insight. Brainjuicer is perhaps better known in the UK, building on online ‘crowd sourcing’ to uncover ‘emotion’. Decision Analyst has new techniques incorporated with more traditional things such as ethnography.

Now is the time to talk to the consumer with new confidence – it is something we can do wherever where we are in the supply chain. 

Walter Lewis is managing director of packaging thinktank Faraday Packaging Partnership.

 Walter Lewis, Packaging News

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