Opinion Series: “I wish they would just tell us what they want!”

by Diane Lindquist on 03/06/2014 | 4 Minute Read

Jill AhernSenior Director, Consulting Services, Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions of HAVI Global Solutions,  talks about the inherent tension that spews forth from the intersection of art and science.


“I wish they would just tell us what they want!”

The thing I love most about package design is the inherent tension that spews forth from the intersection of art and science. The statement above was part of a question posed to me by a packaging professional during a presentation on the importance leveraging consumer insights for packaging development. This earnest and passionate expression sums up all of the angst felt by many developers who have been so solidly trained in the engineering of packaging. In the world of manufacturing, so laser focused on run speeds and material costs, the idea that what consumers really might want is freedom from hassle, or to feel a little happier, or look a little smarter is absolutely mystifying. 

The missing link of course, is art. Design inspires emotion – an attribute which is not taught in package engineering programs. The simple truth is that consumers tell us every day what they want, but since much of what they want is beauty, esteem, joy and a host of other things nearly impossible to measure and even harder to convey.  Artists know this, but scientists have a hard time accounting for the intangible elements of packaging. 

Consumers know when we get a package right because they feel it. The emotional associations that stem from packaging are every bit as compelling to consumers as advertising or social media campaigns because it lives right with the product, and lasts throughout the product’s life. A 2012 Time, Inc. study of consumer media behavior revealed that “Digital Natives” – defined as consumers who have always lived with mobile and digital technology, switch between media platforms such as TV, computer and smartphone an average of 27 times per hour. These consumers are alternating their focus about every other minute, which leaves one to question how they can really connect to traditional advertising. Now stop to consider how much time you spent today interacting with your coffee cup, shampoo bottle or the pack of gum in your pocket or purse? Now, how often will you use each of those items this week, or month? Apart from the time we spend with these packages, we also know them quite intimately because we touch them, and the power of the sensory experience of packaging is unmatched in advertising. How that product sounds, feels in your hand and looks in your home is a powerful and multi-sensory presence that endures. 

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Brands have historically poured money into campaigns which put products in the cart the first time, but what about the next? In our world, the barrage of ads is increasingly separated from the products by space and time and clutter, but packaging lives and breathes right there with the product, reinforcing the brand promise at every look, touch and use. Ads undoubtedly play a key role in setting the stage for purchase, but the magic balance of form, function and brand alignment expressed through the package, is the essence and delivery of the consumer experience. And as modern consumers, we are empowered by information and freed by choice that the digital age has unleashed. So the real experience and lasting product loyalty that comes when consumers feel something about the brand, the product and the purchase makes packaging a “marketing must”.

So, if we all just listened a little closer, we will hear consumers telling us what they really want. 

About Jill Ahern

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Since joining HAVI Global Solutions (HGS) in 2010, Jill has provided leadership to practice management and key client programs, particularly in the consulting areas of market and consumer insight, innovation, and packaging strategy. Jill has more than 18 years of experience leading strategic and collaborative projects including product launches, business development initiatives, corporate events, and joint ventures. Prior to joining HGS’s Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions (PTIS), Jill was Principal of Promentum, LLC, a business strategy and implementation consulting firm, and co-founder of InnovationU with the Brave New Workshop. InnovationU is an intensive leadership course for developing behaviors and cultures of innovation. Throughout her career, Jill has directed numerous regional, national and international trade events and served a diverse client list including more than one hundred Fortune 100 and 500 companies, non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, publishing companies and entrepreneurs.



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