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Packaging and Product Aesthetics

By: Curt Altmann
Posted: May 30, 2014, from the June 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Beauty is a marketplace so heavily segmented and saturated with product offerings that consumers, faced with so many choices, are becoming ever more demanding about every aspect of the products they buy. And with this new reality, marketers, and their packaging suppliers, are challenged to meet expectations.

In 2013, groundbreaking research was presented by MWV that illuminated how customer satisfaction radically drops after purchase and that marketers concentrate too much on achieving the initial sale and not enough on the repurchase. (Read about this research in the article “Packaging Matters” by MWV’s Steve Kazanjian in the September 2013 issue of GCI magazine.) These findings should stir us into action.

Beauty marketers, in the course of new product development, tend to separate their thinking about formula and package in a way the consumer may not. Consumers view a product in its totality. A perfect example of this is the scenario in which a package has changed, however slightly, and the customer is convinced the formula has changed as well, even when it has not.

It is well known that primary packaging has a great impact on consumer perception, as it provides intrinsic cues on perceived quality. These include the form, fit and finish of the packaging as well as the way the package delivers the formula to the user. So, if we are to look at ways of improving consumer product satisfaction in use, primary packaging is an obvious place to start, as it is used throughout the life of the product.

We call these attributes of perception “product aesthetics.” And just like the classic definition of aesthetics being the human perception of beauty (encompassing sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and movement), product aesthetics should relate to every aspect a customer experiences with a product and not just the formula.

Packaging’s Responsibility

Primary packaging’s responsibility to the formula is more than just being a container and a protector—it also is a conveyer. The delivery of the product is equally as important as the house it came in. Further, packaging’s role is to reinforce the consumers’ 360-degree interaction with the product. Maintaining these roles and responsibilities naturally falls to the disciplines of product and package development, and in the course of any new product launch, both of these disciplines need to work in concert.

While this symbiosis is well established in larger companies where there are specific package developers and product developers who work hand in glove as part of a product launch team, smaller companies may not be able to afford such a personnel luxury. In this case, the marketer must rely more heavily on the packaging supplier. The challenge here is the supplier may not have the knowledge or sensitivity to all aspects of a formula’s aesthetics. What is needed is a way to communicate these requirements to the supplier more effectively.

So, how do packaging suppliers improve the consumer experience as they use products? One of the tools that can help is task analysis. This is a study that is a part of the larger discipline of human factors and ergonomics, and is employed in the industrial design world for the evaluation of everything from cleaning products to car instrumentation to medical devices.

Task Analysis

Task analysis is well known to large consumer products companies, but it is often foreign to some beauty marketers. When a consumer is thought of in the abstract, there may be a tendency to throw functionality to the wind in favor of aesthetics, ending up with a primary package that may work with the DNA of the brand but doesn’t work with the needs of the formula.

To prevent this, task analysis is a meticulous framework that takes into account: