Matt Michaud and Jonathan Asher: Packaging research is NOT the enemy!

Matt Michaud and Jonathan Asher of PRS discuss the merits of consumer research.

Matt Michaud of PRS

While consumer research has become a well-integrated part of the package design process, some designers still object to its use.

Admittedly, there is good research and bad research – just as there is good design and bad design. Understanding some fundamentals will help get the right research applied.

Here are a handful of just some of the most frequently asked questions about packaging research:

Q. What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative research—and why would I use one over the other?

A: Qualitative research offers a less formal and regimented approach with a smaller number of people aimed at providing a richer, more spontaneous and detailed consumer response that can bring insight to guide design development and marketing decisions.

It is not meant to determine whether a design will perform well in market. The use of numbers in describing the outcome should be strictly avoided.

Quantitative research differs from qualitative in that it engages a larger number of people in a highly structured manner.

It is mostly used at the late stages of the design process, to determine whether a final design – or two – is suitable for market entry. By using an appropriate sample of respondents and an accurate representation of the shelf on which the package will appear, predictive measures of visibility and shopping dynamics can be obtained.

Q: As designers, we have a very good sense of whether a design will work or not. Do we really need to waste time and money testing?

A: Good designers can create dozens of seemingly effective ways of meeting a design brief, but ultimately, it is the richness of the end consumer response which will help us understand its market potential with the intended audience.

While designers, marketeers and strategists involved in the initiative have unparalleled knowledge of the brand and overall marketing strategy, their relationship with the category in question is often far-removed from that of the target consumer.

Q: So how should research be used to ensure that the best designs get to market?

A: Research can be used at three key stages in the design process:

• Stage 1: Pre-Design – Where are we?

Before design work begins, to learn what is currently working (or not) for the brand and its key competitors, to help inform the design brief.

• Stage 2: Screening – Which way do we go?

Early in the pack development process, to explore a number of design alternatives to understand their key communication strengths and weaknesses, in order to narrow down the number of concepts and provide input for optimization.

• Stage 3: Validation – Are we good to go?

Prior to launch, in order to provide quantitative measures of how the proposed design(s) is performing and determine whether it is meeting the action standards required for market entry.

Determining when in the process to conduct research and which type of method to employ will depend on:

• How much and what type of information already exists

• The brand objectives

• The sales objectives

• The design objectives

• The logistical parameters

The best course of action will be based on considering all of these factors and determining, together with the key project stakeholders, which approach to use and how best to tailor it to get the most actionable learning.

Ultimately, the most effective use of research in the design process will be achieved through frequent and open dialogue. Researchers can play a pivotal role in this process by providing a sharp perspective on the capabilities and limitations of different research approaches and how best to leverage these in creating winning designs.

Matt Michaud (Senior Research Director – Global) and Jonathan Asher (Executive Vice President) work for Perception Research Services ( in London and New Jersey respectively.

PRS conducts more than 800 packaging and shopper research studies annually to help clients “Win at Retail”. Matt and Jonathan can be reached at and