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How to think ahead of the consumer

Why do we indulge the undesirable tendency to create “me-too” products with mundane packaging to match?

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Recently, I came across some interesting perspectives.

At the annual FUSE: Design & Culture, Brand Identity & Packaging conference in New York City, NY, culture and human behavior author Malcolm Gladwell offered several valuable insights. Gladwell argues that we assign too much weight to market research numbers and tend to spend too little time on what consumers might be thinking, but can’t always express.

“The market researcher is not a statistician,” says Gladwell, the author of Blink—essential reading for anyone with input in the package-design process.

Gregg Fraley didn’t dispute that point when we talked during the conference. “In my experience, many CPG companies won’t go to market unless their ideas are quantitatively validated,” says Fraley, an author and creative consultant. “In the process, they’re losing opportunities to come out with products that are ahead of what the consumer is thinking.”

What emerged from Gladwell and others at the conference were the following suggestions:

• Resist asking consumers to verbalize what they want. Gladwell says that approach could actually change how they feel about what they want. A better option, says Dan Hill, President of Sensory Logic: Study the meanings behind consumers’ facial expressions, and then observe those expressions as consumers engage with products in environments where they state preferences or make purchasing decisions.

• Change the illusion of what Gladwell describes as “cultural authenticity.” This is the idea that if it worked once, that is only what works.

• Choice is good, but there comes a point when the sheer number of options begins to overwhelm and confuse consumers. It’s better to understand what components or attributes really matter to consumers.

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