Improve Testing by Leaning on Brand Strategy

12.19.17 / Molly Beier

Keeping your packaging design relevant and effective in an ever-changing market can be daunting. With the pressure on, we continue to see our clients look to consumer testing to guide their next move, looking for quantifiable metrics to help guide the way. The downside is that the results you get from testing could give you false security, and even worse, push you in the wrong direction. Don’t worry, we have some tips to help you get the most out of the testing process.

Start with a validated brand strategy

Before you jump into testing, take a look at your brand strategy. Is your leadership team in alignment around your mission, with a rock-solid understanding of why you exist as a company and what you stand for? Do you have a vision for where the company needs to be in 12 months or two years? If not, you have some work to do. Testing creative without tying it back to strategy means you’re building a flawed testing environment built on instinct instead of data. When you start with strategy, you remove subjectivity from the decision-making process and you gain a tool that should be used to drive your design systems, product innovations, and inform your testing process.

With strategy in place giving you a clear diagnosis for where your brand should move next, and a new set of creative that will get you there, maybe you still feel that testing the new against the old will give you the extra push you need to take that brave leap into new territory. In that case, beware of certain risks—like a dynamically changing leadership team, or an outside ‘expert’ brought in to guide the testing process. They may come in thinking they know best, but if that expert authors the questionnaire that helps lead your existing creative to a win on paper, but doesn’t address all the failings uncovered during strategy, is that really a win? Trust your strategy, and let it guide your decisions.

Don’t only rely on consumer insights to inform your next move

Retail reality is nearly impossible to replicate. What consumers say in a testing environment will never fully reflect their behavior in the real world. They will always behave differently in a controlled environment than when they are out living their lives, naturally interacting with the brands they know and trust. And under observation, people will most often try to give you the right answer instead of the real answer—they will say what they think you want to hear.

A recent client of ours whose packaging was failing at retail experienced this kind of thing firsthand, after going through the strategy and design process with us. After presenting new creative that addressed all the pain points uncovered during strategy, they were still hesitant to abandon their existing packaging. They were too emotionally invested in the current designs and the beautiful product photography. So, they decided to test the current packaging against the new, and the current designs won by two-tenths of a point. That emotional validation might feel good, but where does that get you?

Understand testing for what it is—fire insurance

Testing is not a silver bullet, but it is a great form of fire insurance. If it is something you decide to invest in, make sure you do things in the right order. Know your vision and mission, have a clearly defined “why” for your business and a roadmap for where you want to be in the future. Use elements of your brand strategy to inform your testing stimuli so you are asking the right questions.

Ultimately, when testing is driven by strategy, you are creating a much more valuable testing ground. You have a clearer understanding of what you are testing against, and your test subjects can help you prioritize features and benefits instead of splitting hairs over the design itself. Supplement your test results with other forms of data and research, and you will start to see the way forward. Because in the end, even with that testing box checked, you will most likely still have to trust your gut—and won’t it feel better to trust your gut with strategy backing it up?

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