How Brands Can Improve Consumer Package Testing

It’s the singular, make-or-break moment for a better-for-you brand: The consumer has browsed the category, scanned the shelf, and picked up your product. Now, will she buy?

Ascertaining whether she’s likely to buy — and if not, why not — is the essence of package testing for consumer goods. Package testing helps new brands form a visual presence in the retail environment and helps existing brands as they restage or line-extend. It helps marketers answer the question, “Is this package better — better than the old version, better than the competition, better than these 5 other variations we’re considering?”

But package testing is tricky. Often, it asks consumer panels to evaluate a box or bag not in the crowded retail space but rather in an idealized setting. And marketers tend to populate their test groups with people they know already like the product and are likely to buy anyway, regardless of which package winds up on the shelf. Run the test in the wrong way or ask the wrong people, and you’ll wind up with faulty results that don’t accurately predict future sales. And that’s a dumb way to spend marketing dollars.

Why You Should Test Your Package Design

Consumer package testing is about trying to create a quantifiable data point that shows increased purchase intent. And that’s it. Don’t try to extrapolate any further than that.

Consumer testing is hot among BFY brand marketers because the landscape is so competitive — more and more organizations want confirmation of a new package design before going to print. It’s a smart piece of due diligence for of any rebrand or packaging refresh. It’s also important if you want to go to your retail partner or investor or distributor to talk about a new product — you can back your pitch with data that demonstrates that consumers are likely to buy.

How to Run Package Design Tests the Right Way

Consumer testing brings value to the design process, provided you run it the right way. Here are five things to know as you engage a testing partner to evaluate new package designs:

It’s about content more than design. Design is so subjective, and consumers will have a hard time judging the difference between text in different point sizes and logos in slightly different shades of blue. Instead, focus your querying on messaging. Use consumer testing to validate which front of pack messaging (within your packaging architecture) will create the highest purchase intent. What product attributes, features, and claims resonate, and what words should you use to communicate them?

It’s about the package, not the product. Consumer package testing won’t tell you whether people like your strawberry flavor better than vanilla, or whether they’ll embrace your new peanut butter version. It won’t, frankly, tell you much about whether they like the product. It’s about how they respond to what they see on the label or box.

It’s important to ask the right questions. It’s happened to us more often than we’d like to think: A client takes a package we’ve developed to testing, and focuses on the wrong issues. Make sure that the same keywords you use in your consumer testing are the same ones you have in your design brief. When the testing company designs the test without the input or feedback from the design team, they risk querying on keywords that don’t sync with the brand’s positioning and strategy. Even the most effective packaging system can “lose” a consumer test if the test asks the wrong questions.

You have to know what to study. And when you don’t get all stakeholders on the same page regarding the language used to develop the questions and criteria, you’ll spend a lot of time and money to generate flawed results. So make sure your testing criteria map to the brand strategy.

It’s a function of the test group. When gathering consumers for your panel, make sure you have the right balance of:

  • current loyal fans
  • fans of your competitors’ products
  • people who currently don’t purchase your offering but might if the messaging and value proposition were compelling enough

It’s essential to look at packaging in context. One of our clients had conducted consumer testing on previous packaging and got a positive review. But we discovered that the testing process involved having consumers look at digital images of the package on a white background on a computer screen. And that’s hardly an actionable study because you don’t get a realistic competitive set or a realistic view of the retail environment. Make sure your research partner places the package in context, whether a virtual scene or in a room with a live shelf set.

Even the best tools for gathering marketing insights can yield fragmented and incomplete data if they’re deployed incorrectly. And a packaging system is too big an investment to hang on data you can’t trust. Consumer package testing’s true role is as insurance — an important part of the design process that ensures that the package wins that 3-foot battle in the grocery aisle.

If a new packaging system is on your radar, we’d love to partner with you. Drop us a line.

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Founder, President, & Chief Strategist
David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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