March 19, 2011
I know…this would never happen at your company. But it could–if you let it.
Consumers are eager to tell you all the ways they struggle with your package, and what new features would compel them to buy and cement their loyalty forever. They will blackmail you with expectations for over-the-top functionality that will make the world safe again for on-the-go snacking. Or bathroom cleaning. Or…
So how do you reconcile consumer “requirements” with the real-life constraints you live with in R&D? Here are some questions to ask yourself when faced with numerous stated consumer expectations you can’t possibly fulfill.
- Forget about features. What are the perceptual and functional attributes consumers care about most? Can you define and rank them? It’s not enough to say “maintain freshness” is a critical attribute. How should you execute on that? Should you do so at all given the usage dynamics of the product? Perhaps perceptual cues that signal freshness would do the job, given that true freshness is likely sufficient.
- What’s the key consumer promise your product makes? What’s the role of packaging in delivering it? Are there gaps? If your product is all about the foaming action that lifts dirt, what can the package do better to bring that to life, both perceptually and functionally? The point is to look beyond the utility of packaging alone, and consider the integrated, singular product/package promise consumers will understand and value. Ignore consumer “requirements” that don’t support that promise unless your package is leaving some critical, category-standard utility on the table.
- What incremental utility will your consumer ultimately pay for? This is the age-old question without many good answers. But with the right approach, it’s one reasonable way to decode what’s mission critical and what’s just dip on the chip. How might you approach this? I use some “relative value” and “asset allocation” tools that don’t ask consumers to pick an absolute price, and can help tremendously. Feel free to ask me about them.
- Are you taking consumer requirements too literally? Just because consumers say they need a better grip on your drink bottle doesn’t mean they should get one. Assuming this attribute is high-ranking, there are various ways to deliver on it without adding tangible gripping features. Maybe its about stability. Or spilling. Or proportion. Or more likely, as suggested above, your consumer is laundry-listing “expectations” since you asked them, and she doesn’t really care.
As we all know, the voice of the customer can be loud and relentless, if not grating at times. Your job is to bring a rational, thoughtful and analytical perspective to their demands. And maybe even some ear plugs.
March 2, 2011
Why bother gathering consumer input on package changes? I recently came across a survey of packaging managers that queried them on the biggest issues they face. The top responses were “Production and efficiency improvements” and “Cost cutting”. Responses such as “Meeting changing consumer needs” or “Delighting the customer” weren’t even on the list.
That’s ok. These are tough times for consumer products companies. Rising commodity costs. Private labels eating their lunch. The consumer strapped for cash. Who can blame these managers for looking for spare change in every seat cushion?
Does this mean that consumers have nothing to add to this conversation about cutting costs? Absolutely not. In fact, consumer input may be even more critical in this environment than it was in the bygone, free-wheeling, give-em-what-they-want era. That’s because downgrading materials and reducing functionality is a risky business. It can easily denigrate a brand, alter an experience and alienate loyal consumers. For companies going down the efficiency path (all of them), I’d propose the following:
- Explore ways to engage with consumers that can help rationalize changes. What attributes are most important to them? What elements of the experience are most critical to loyalty? What features best deliver on the performance promise the brand and the product make? There are lots of ways to do this, but the best ones rely on an attribute-oriented investigation.
- Don’t expose consumers to models and renderings depicting changes and asking them which they prefer. That kind of inquiry is fraught with bias and confusion. They will always pick the one you don’t want to produce. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do just fine with less. See the point above.
- If nothing else, do a “disaster check” on the new design. Put prototypes in consumers’ hands. Let them view it “on shelf” in a competitive context. Let them use it for a few days. Ask them how the new package stacks up both functionally and perceptually. Listen for any erosion to the brand and the user experience.
So, don’t get discouraged when your packaging manager tells you that it’s all about cost cutting and not about the consumer. Because it is. And it is. Think of this as an opportunity to hone your offering down to it’s cleanest, clearest promise. To provide the consumer with exactly what they want–nothing more to distract them, and nothing less to disenfranchise them. These are fascinating times that force us to get better at what we do. It’s good for us, good for our firms and good for the consumer…though they won’t say so.