CloudArmy’s Packaging Research Methods
At CloudArmy, our System 1 approach delivers unique advantages for brands and retailers seeking to optimize packaging design. By uncovering hidden non-conscious insights unavailable through traditional methods, we provide unparalleled understanding of how shoppers truly respond to packaging.
Our unrivalled expertise in translating cognitive and behavioral science learnings into impactful design recommendations has guided leading brands and retailers worldwide, including some of the world's largest retailers developing their own brands, to effective redesigns. While validating intuitive hypotheses, we dig deeper to reveal subconscious drivers of behavior, arming marketing teams with robust diagnostics and actionable optimizations.
Our Packaging Framework
We have developed a unique holistic framework for understanding how packaging works based on our combined decades of experience working with large retailers and brands, and our in-depth knowledge of many consumer neuroscience measures, combined with cutting-edge software development that supports creating and tracking versatile, effective online testing.
When evaluating packs, we answer three main questions: Does it grab attention? How does it shape perception? And does it motivate behavior?
These are the critical things a successful package design must do in-store.
1. Grabbing attention
How likely is your pack design to grab attention when shoppers are browsing? How easy is it for shoppers to find when they are looking for it (i.e. it's on their shopping list)? And when shoppers focus on your pack, what do they look at first?
These are critical factors for the success of a pack. Shoppers are often impatient and quickly scan displays, driven by habit and ‘gut reactions’. Giving your pack only seconds to be seen and sold.
To answer these questions we deploy several tools.
First, we use predictive attention AI to evaluate your pack's inherent ability to stand out to browsing shoppers in a competitive retail environment. This is an algorithm that has been developed using databases of human eye-tracking results and visual-neuroscience research into what captures attention quickly. We create a number of different images, showing your pack designs in different positions within a competitive array — the same sort of display that shoppers will see in-store. And the algorithm assesses the ‘pulling power’ on attention that each design is likely to have.
Second, we create Findability tests to measure how quickly and accurately shoppers are able to find your pack designs. When re-designing a pack, for example, it is critical that you don’t accidentally ruin your customer’s ability to find it. We create a visual display of pack facings from your category, and we prompt our online test participants to find a particular product within the display and to click on it when they find it. We capture what they clicked on, whether it was correct or incorrect and how long they took — to millisecond accuracy. Then we prompt them with another find request, and so on.
The test uses sophisticated randomisation procedures and rules around which packs get shown at the same time. By rapidly randomizing pack images, we minimize potential confounding variables such as participants remembering where different packs are positioned within the display.
There are a number of useful analyses our consultants can then perform on this data. For example, when participants click on an incorrect pack, looking at trends in what they are mistakenly selecting. Where people are confused between packs of similar colors, for example.
Third, we use online eye-tracking to capture how consumers view your pack. Online eye-tracking works via participants' webcams, which they opt-in to allow us to turn on and access during the course of the test. We present pack images on screen, one at a time in a random sequence, each for between five to ten seconds. Participants’ eye movements are then measured. We can see which areas of the design were looked at first, second and so on, and for how long consumers lingered on each area on average.
This information is useful in helping to assess which of several design options:
- Is most likely to drive attention to the most important elements most rapidly
- Creates a viewing flow path that looks like consumers find it easy to visually decode and navigate the image
Analysing these results can helps diagnose any problems discovered through other methods related to the findability or understanding of the product.
2. Shaping Perception
What associations and feelings does your pack design trigger? Packaging needs to communicate quickly. Shoppers are impatient and time-pressed. This means your designs need to be intuitive, easy to decode and emotionally appealing.
This is where our intuitive Fast Choice tests come in. We are able to measure a wide variety of attributes with your package designs. Attributes are descriptive qualities that are important to be communicated by your product’s packaging design. They are usually one or two words long, and examples include: Tasty, For Me, High Quality, Natural, I Want.
Typically we recommend including one or two competitors for comparison. We then capture participants' answers to whether each design matches each attribute, but also their time to respond, as a measure of how strong and certaintheir choice is. This gives us an additional dimension of data to evaluate.
An optional variation we can add into a project is to measure how natural a fit the pack design is for your brand. Packaging design is a big part of brand-building, and having a distinctive brand that differentiates you from your competitors is important. We can run a Fast Choice test whereby instead of word attributes we measure the natural, intuitive connection between each design option and your brand.
Similarly, another optional exercise is a Brand-Shift measure. Here we can measure the effect that your different package designs have on perceptions of your brand. Of course, for a well established brand and for relatively typical packaging, the effect of one exposure to the pack is likely to be negligible. So this test is usually reserved for occasions when you are launching a new brand or you are launching a new product that is sufficiently different from current offerings that it could force consumers to reappraise your brand.
We also use a test that we call ‘Flash Exposure’. This simple exercise involves displaying the pack design for just several seconds, then removing it from the screen, and asking participants to write in a comment box everything they noticed about the product and what they think the product is. This exercise is typically performed at the very beginning of a survey, when participants are still naive and haven’t seen any of the pack designs yet. And it's also typically conducted monadically, i.e. any one person will only do this exercise once, for one pack design. This helps to make sure that participants don’t learn from seeing multiple designs and that we are capturing a genuinely new, first impression of the pack design. We don’t run this test routinely, only when there is a specific question for it to answer. For example, if your product contains or doesn’t contain a particular ingredient: do shoppers notice? Or does one design cause people to mention a color or an image on the pack more than another design?
Visual distinctive assets
Visual brand assets are the visual elements that encapsulate a brand's identity and play a crucial role in packaging design. These assets, which can include logos, color schemes, typography, brand mascots and packaging shapes, are not just aesthetic choices; they serve as vital cues that communicate the brand's values and personality to the consumer. In a cluttered retail environment, distinctive visual assets can capture attention, create emotional connections, and drive recognition. They act as a silent salesman on the shelf, where the first visual impression can often be the deciding factor in the consumer's choice. Packaging that effectively leverages visual brand assets can elevate the product from a mere commodity to a memorable brand experience.
We can test both how recognizable each asset is as belonging to your brand, and the intuitive associations that each triggers.
The first question — the ability to be recognised as belonging to your brand — we answer via a variation of our Findability test. Here, instead of being presented with an array of full pack designs, and being asked to find a product, we ask participants to find a brand, and then we show them an array of different visual assets, only one of which belongs to that brand. This process is done repeatedly, with participants asked to find different brands and shown different randomized arrays.
The second question — the associations that each asset triggers — is one we typically answer with a Fast Choice test. Using a very similar exercise to the full-pack Fast Choice, we are able to measure the intuitive connections between each visual asset and several attributes. This can help us understand the contribution of the asset to the communication and emotional appeal of the full pack design.
3. Motivating behavior
Your pack design may be one that grabs attention, is easy to find, is easy to visually decode, and that communicates all the right associations. But does that all add up for the shopper, triggering a desire to purchase?
The final stage of our testing measures the strength of purchase intent for each of your design options.
Here we typically run an Implicit Association Test that measures the ability of your pack designs to automatically trigger the feeling of ‘I want’. The implicit test is used here as our gold standard test that is not only able to uncover consumers true desire but is highly resistant to cheating or inattentive participants. Unlike Fast Choice exercises, these exercises do not ask participants to choose between two alternatives. Instead, we tell them which alternative associations to pick and we precisely measure their response times — faster responses indicate associations that were more intuitively acceptable, while slower responses indicate associations that triggered some intuitive resistance.
Additionally we can add survey questions. Even though we believe in the usefulness and relevance of timed-response measures to understand shopper behavior, we also believe that sometimes a more ‘System 2’ response is worth capturing, especially when analyzed in combination with ‘System 1’ responses.
We can create the most common forms of survey questions, such as multiple choice, open-ended questions, scales and sliders. One of the most frequently used types of questions we incorporate into our packaging tests is what we call ‘Opinion Point’. This involves displaying the pack image full size, and inviting participants to click on any areas they particularly like or dislike (we can also ask other questions, such as asking them to click on areas they find confusing) and then to leave a comment that expresses why.
Based on our extensive experience with testing packaging designs, as well as the published science literature around visual perception and neuroaesthetics, we then synthesize all the results of your tests and produce recommendations on which pack designs are the strongest and how they can be further enhanced and optimized.
Speed and iteration
Through our refined, templatized process, we deliver results faster than traditional research agencies. Our optimized systems enable rapid turnaround so brands can quickly iterate: testing their designs, then making changes based on the results, then testing again.
The flexibility of our approach means we can offer both such a templated solution and more bespoke, customized solutions where we add in additional measures to address additional questions.
CloudArmy's testing approach provides granular insights into performance across these three areas, identifying what's working versus not working in the design. Unlike surveys, limited to conscious preference, our methodology reveals how shoppers decode, evaluate, and interact with packs on deeper non-conscious levels. And our framework moves beyond identifying problems to provide clear guidance on optimizing designs for greater impact in-store, using visual best practices proven through research. This comprehensive approach delivers robust diagnostics and actionable recommendations to create packs that work harder from all angles.
We call our standard packaging research product ‘Pack Reactor™’. This test will give you the core measures that apply to virtually every piece of packaging research:
- Visual Attention AI
- Fast Choice
- Survey questions
- Design Optimisation
Then, as optional extras, we can add on:
- Flash Exposure
- Measures of distinctive visual assets
- Opinion Point
We believe that our comprehensive approach to pack design is the best way to identify all the key strengths and weaknesses of your designs. By combining techniques like Implicit association, Fast Choice, eye tracking, and more, our tests provide a robust understanding of how different elements of your pack design are driving consumer response, and we are less likely to miss an important strength or weakness of a design.
To summarize, there are three key benefits to testing your pack designs with CloudArmy:
1) Our techniques access the intuitive, non-conscious and automatic responses that consumers have to packaging, which reflect real shopping behavior versus stated preferences. Tools like Implicit and Fast Choice reveal how people react intuitively rather than their rationalized feedback. This provides critical insights for pack performance in-store. Our Findability and Flash Exposure tests measure how consumers are likely to respond in an impatient/time-pressed manner that reflects the real world.
2) Our team has collectively spent decades honing expertise at providing actionable recommendations to creatively optimize pack designs based on the test findings. We frequently collaborate directly with agencies and creative teams to make their branding and creative work more impactful through scientific testing and enhancement. And because we have a diverse toolbox of methods, we can also often address very specific, non-standard questions you might have about your packaging designs.
3) Our techniques can isolate the influence of individual design elements like fonts, imagery, and claims. This enables precise refinements based on the unique impact of each component. Because our measures are quantified, we can also build benchmarks for comparison. We have a range of standard Fast Choice and Findability benchmarks, and we can also help to build them for your brand or category.
With consumer neuroscience, we help unlock insights unavailable through traditional metrics alone. Our proven approach provides packaging teams with unmatched learning to optimize shelf impact by accessing and revealing non-conscious consumer emotions and associations. Contact us today to learn more about our next-generation pack testing.
With our approach it's possible to refine packaging designs that not only stand out aesthetically but also resonate on a subconscious and emotional level. The application of psychological principles and research methods to packaging design ensures that every visual element is optimized for impact. This scientific approach can lead to packaging that not only draws the eye but also creates a lasting impression, fostering brand loyalty and influencing purchasing behavior over time. In essence, well-designed visual brand assets are not just an investment in a product's packaging — they're an investment in the brand's future.
To learn more about our packaging research services, please contact us.