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Technology-driven package design innovation yields greater rewards

Technology-driven package design innovation yields greater rewards
Jim Harmon of Nielsen Innovation’s Practice in North America.

What role does technology have in packaging design and how can brand owners leverage that?

Jim Harmon of Nielsen Innovation’s Practice in North America can offer some insight. He has seen how leading retailer and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are delivering more profitable outcomes from their brand marketing and innovation initiatives using technology like eye tracking to drive innovation in package design. Harmon, who has 25 years’ experience in this area (his bio is below), responds to our questions in a preview of a presentation he will be making at the upcoming PAC Winning by Design Summit. The Summit takes place June 17 in conjunction with the 3-day PackEx trade show June 16-18 in Toronto, Canada.

What distinguishes your process to bring science to packaging design?

Harmon: At Nielsen, we consistently see designs launched to market that have limited impact on brand sales and, in many cases, hurt brand equity. The current design process is a huge contributor to the problem. Typically, agencies generate a lot of different creative avenues for a design only to have them subjectively thrown out by the internal client team. By the time the remaining designs go to testing, consumers are only seeing what the internal team thought was best—they never get a chance to weigh in on some of the more revolutionary and riskier avenues the agency wanted to explore.

Our process is unique because it can explore large creative spaces—which means consumers can vet the full range of design options, instead of only being exposed to a small, subjectively chosen set. The technology predicts which of many design directions will perform best against competitors. One particularly interesting component of the technology is eye-tracking—during an online activity, consumers view a collection of designs in a competitive context and their eye movements are analyzed to indicate which designs capture and hold attention most successfully.

By removing subjectivity and capturing a variety of key metrics, the technology substantially improves the likelihood of identifying breakthrough designs. In fact, on average, the process results in a 15% improvement in pack design visibility and 39% improvement in consumer preference when compared to the current design.

What is the history to this methodology?

Harmon: Affinnova [which was acquired by Nielsen in October 2014] introduced the technology and executed our first design work in 2002 with a major U.S. brand owner, but its impact is greatly expanded now that we are a part of Nielsen. Nielsen is the leader in understanding consumer needs and predicting the impact of new products, advertising and promotions on brand growth. With the integration of Affinnova technology into the Nielsen portfolio, CPG manufacturers can now seamlessly track and optimize their performance across aspects of product innovation and activation, ensuring that all parts of the system are working together optimally.

What trends are having an impact on packaging design?

Harmon: The first trend we see is the focus on packaging structure innovation. In the past, brands would look to flavor line extensions as a way to maintain and advance their competitive position and relevance on the shelf. However, many brands have gotten to the point where they have an unwieldy number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) and many of them are not incremental. As an alternative, some brands have been focusing on differentiating through “experience” by offering unique packaging shapes or materials that tie into consumer use occasion.

Here’s a good example of a project we worked on for AB InBev that explored creative packaging based on use occasion.

The other trend we see is optimizing packaging by channel. Brands are coming to realize that consumers’ expectations around shopping experiences vary depending on whether they are shopping in a grocery, convenience or club store. For example, we had a CPG client who was selling their beverage product by the gallon at convenience stores. They learned that consumers don’t look to buy beverages by the gallon; if they switched to just a single-serve pack format, they could not only drive more preference for their product, but free up space for other faster-selling SKUs. It was a win for the brand and retailer.

You will be presenting on a redesign for Sprite Zero—what can you share about that?

Harmon: The Sprite brand team wanted to establish a stronger connection with global consumers. To accomplish this, they sought to identify a restage option that would be more refreshing and revitalizing, preferred by both buyers and non-buyers in their key global markets. They also wanted to understand if they could create a universal design that worked globally, which would save the cost of having local markets develop their own designs. The Sprite team leveraged Nielsen’s technology to explore and validate 37 unique design directions across the U.S. and three other markets. From this, they were able to identify a new unified global design strategy that substantially improved preference among both current buyers and non-buyers. 

What advice do you have for those involved in packaging design?

Harmon: I would encourage brands and design agencies to embrace technology to bring accountability and objectivity to the design work they are doing today. Across the industry, design is under-funded and under-appreciated, which is a function of not being able to measure and qualify its impact consistently. There are scalable and cost-effective technologies available now that empower brands to measure their design impact just as they would any other areas of marketing spend—ultimately helping to improve their brand position in the market. Moreover, technology has the power to remove subjectivity from the design process and give consumers a stronger voice in deciding what to launch to market. When brands involve consumers early, we know they are more successful and that they launch designs that are much more creative and impactful.

For more information, visit Nielsen.

For more information on the PAC “Winning By Design” conference that includes presenters from Wegman’s and Walmart Canada, click here.

Jim Harmon is vp of design solutions for Nielsen Innovation’s Practice in North America. He brings more than 25 years’ experience to helping leading retailer and CPG companies deliver more profitable outcomes from their brand marketing and innovation initiatives. Prior to his current role, Harmon was vp and early team member for marketing technology company Affinnova, where he introduced firms like Wal-Mart, Kroger, Coca-Cola, P&G, Smuckers and others to Affinnova’s optimization technology for package designs and product concepts. He has also held leadership roles at Cardlytics, Catalina Marketing, MKTG Inc, NewsAmerica and Marsh Supermarkets. Harmon is a graduate of the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University. 

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