Research, like literature, is a wonderful thing. Depending on what you want to achieve, it can be as tersely accurate as a textbook or as stimulating as a novel. In a way research is very much like design.
The outcome is dependent on the brief, which sets the objective, the methodology applied, and the data provided.
The key difference is that one sets out to be a science and the other is readily accepted as a creative discipline. After many years’ consumption of research, and more recently my own company’s involvement in the discipline, I’ll be blowed if I can see much of a difference between them.
The real stuff is easy to spot. It isn’t designed to confirm expectations and it isn’t designed to select a winner. Nor will it attempt to predict what consumers will want one day.
The best research makes no judgments at all. Which is why recent US research by Perception Research Services on consumer attitudes to environmentally friendly packaging is interesting.
It covers four years from 2008 to 2011 and a diverse consumer group. There were no preconditions or biases that we can detect and the results challenge a lot of defensive arguments.
The biggest revelation is that consumers are undergoing a fundamental perception shift on packaging and the environment. Despite the economic conditions, 36% of consumers choose environmentally friendly packaging. Of the 1,000 people sampled, 59% said that environmental claims on packaging positively impacts their behaviour and this can act as a brand switching reason.
Around half are prepared to pay a small premium for environmentally friendly packaging. Many sceptics will raise a knowing eyebrow here, but remember consumers have no idea what they pay for packaging in the first place.
Recycling claims have the greatest res- onance and two thirds of shoppers say they recycle on a regular basis. Of these who do not recycle, 40% claim it’s because they forget to do so, not that they disagree with it. Mass reduction, it would appear, carries little weight. But there is also a lot of frustration for these consumers in the lack of information available and fewer consumers are seeing manufacturers’ claims as entirely honourable.
Why doesn’t the government look at this opportunity rather than hammering the industry? It is, after all, consumption that drives the problem. The claim that the consumer doesn’t want to pay, can’t pay, it’s not their responsibility can be summed up more accurately as politicians ducking the problem of asking voters to pay.
But they should, and increasing numbers are understanding they have to. Real research tells us uncomfortable things, and here’s one: it’s time to ask the consumer to pay.
Steve Kelsey is strategic innovations director at design agency PI Global