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GE Caulk Singles: how ethnography helped create a better package

Behavioral studies led to GE Caulk Singles' category-changing package design.
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Could ethnography also work for you?

As an occasional caulk and paint guy, I appreciated what Momentive Performance Materials had done the moment I heard about its new GE Caulk Singles. The 1.25-oz "unit dose" stand-up pouches are designed to make the caulking experience totally convenient and mess-free. Personally—and having served as a judge in the Institute of Packaging Professionals' annual AmeriStar awards for the past several years—I consider GE Caulk Singles worthy of package of the year-level consideration.

When I spoke with Momentive marketing director Anita Mooy, who was instrumental in bringing this product from concept to market, I learned much of the details and effort that went into creating Caulk Singles. I also discovered how much she credits ethnography, or behavioral studies, conducted by Ideo (www.ideo.com) for this breakthrough packaged-product introduction. In fact, as a result and in her own words, she is now passionate about behavioral studies as an essential tool to help guide product and package development as a far richer resource than focus groups.

The bar was set high from the very beginning when Mooy and her associates specifically set out to develop a disruptive, category-changing product and package.

"Our focus was to create revolutionary innovation versus evolutionary," she told me. "By definition, that’s attracting new markets, new channels of distribution, and new users. That’s really what we wanted to go after. And so we said, to do that, it’s going to take looking at things very differently than making a product a little more elastic or with a little better adhesive properties. It will take something fairly drastic. We looked to Ideo, a leader in innovation, product development, and design. We spent a lot of time getting to know them, their culture, and their business model. Their entire philosophy is based on behavioral science research or ethnography, coupled with rapid prototyping.

" That led to a "rigorous" three-year research and development timetable that took the team into the field, where real people use caulk in the real world.

The real world of caulk users

"We went to consumers and residential contractors and professional painters, people who use caulks and sealants in all sorts of ways, and spent an enormous amount of time with them," explains Mooy. "We just hung out in their homes, watched how they used it to do home fix-up, spent time on job sites, traveled to the store with them. Basically, we lived with them to watch and understand how they behaved and how they used the product, what was important and what wasn’t. It was very important in that process to really do behavioral science study. It wasn’t a focus group. It wasn’t about just listening to what people could tell you. It was watching their behavior and intuiting their feelings as they went through these activities."

Mooy says that all of that observing and analyzing came together rapidly: "As you synthesize all of those elements of behavioral science research, you come pretty quickly to large themes that run throughout all those audiences. When you study extreme users, people who use caulk all day, every day, and people who may use it once over several years, if you solve both of those groups' problems, then you also solve the issues for the majority in the middle of the bell curve. And that’s really what we went about studying and trying to figure out, and hopefully we cracked that latent need in the market."

Mooy says they distilled the studies to two things: ease of use and accessibility. And these aspects tied into packaging by improving the downsides associated with using caulk tubes and caulk guns.

"If you solve those issues, you have made caulking accessible to a far larger group of people that wouldn’t undertake a caulking project simply because of the delivery mechanism found in the market today," she explains.

Milk and eggs

Interestingly, Mooy compares the breakthrough to thinking of caulk as eggs rather than milk.

"We then started to think about caulk, not as a gallon of milk, where you open it up and it all can sour before you can use it all, but rather like a carton of eggs: You take them out and use them as you need them, and each one stays fresh and useable until you open that particular one. So it was really a shift in thinking," she says.

Mooy and her team uncovered much of this data through the behavioral studies.

"This was an approach I understood and I theoretically agreed with, and I believed that it worked. Now I am absolutely passionate that behavioral science will help you create better products and bigger innovation," Mooy emphasizes. "Otherwise, it's very difficult to divorce yourself from the internal workings of your company and your perspectives, and really look at it from the perspective of the person who’s going to use this product. I'm so passionate that I can’t imagine doing product development of any kind in any other way now."

How does it compare to focus groups? "They can get at things at only a very superficial level," Mooy opines. "People can’t necessarily articulate what they don’t know. And when you get people together, they start to fall prey to all the social mores of 'What’s appropriate to say? What’s cool? What makes me look very skilled as a professional?' With all of this going on, if you take what’s said at face value in a focus group, you get a very one-dimensional, tainted kind of information.

"If you go much more deeply and understand what people are saying, and marry that with the things you can study and how users behave and their emotions and feelings, all of those combined together and studied can lead you to that latent need, things they may not have even known they needed."

That led Momentive to launch GE Caulk Singles, 1.25-oz stand-up pouches that are easy as well as fun to use, and eliminate the need for caulk tubes and guns. It's packaging that's clearly a winner.

Behavioral studies might be something to consider, even if your company doesn't end up introducing a package-driven, category-changing product.

For more information, see Single-use caulk packs debut.

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