Unpacking Packaging: Trends and Strategy

With multiple high street brands going into administration every year, the rapid global rise of the middle class, the increasing number of single person households and an ageing population, the demographic context in which brands have to make their mark is changeable and challenging. In today’s highly competitive retail environment, companies need to find a way to shine – and choosing the right packaging is one of the most impactful, visual and effective tactics to build brand charisma and appeal.

At November 2015’s Packaging Live conference in London, several of us in the BuzzBack UK research team had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the colourful world of pack strategy. We learnt about the advantages of digital print packaging, with its efficiency, short time to market and potential for individual pack customisation. We looked at some of the brands who are already picking up on this movement towards personalisation both on and offline (including Coca Cola’s highly successful Share A Coke and Coke Extraordinary campaigns and Magnum’s hands-on Dipping Stations that allow consumers to create their own perfect ice cream experience).

We also heard about some of the current buzz topics in retail – notably the trend towards packaging which clearly communicates a sense of heritage and quality. From fish and chips packaged in printed paper to recall the recycled newsprint wrapping of days gone by, to ready meals produced in fibre or wooden based trays rather than plastic ones to signal increased care and superiority, brands today are making the effort to give them something new, and to communicate with their consumers on an emotional level as well as a functional one. And whilst traditional research approaches may help our clients understand how respondents feel about a pack, it’s increasingly clear that we need to dig deeper and use our diagnostic tools to uncover why it prompts the feelings that it does in them.

Ultimately, a great pack creates a stronger engagement with consumers and actively drives choice. It doesn’t just contain a product – it sells it too – and it’s our job to make sure that our clients make the best pitch possible.

Welcome (Back) to 2015

Welcome to 2015! Or is it, welcome back to 2015? In case you’ve forgotten, or maybe you’re just too young to know, 2015 is the same year we were transported to during Back to the Future II. This fictional movie with predictions from early 1989 made a lot of guesses as to what future consumers would want. So, a lot of people are asking, “did they get it right?

Well, Nike recently revealed that they plan to release the self-lacing Nike Air MAG’s that Marty McFly wore in the movie towards the end of 2015. The company had previously put 1,500 pairs of the shoes up on ebay for a charity auction back in 2011, although they didn’t have the self-lacing technology back then. Still, they managed to raise $5.6 Million in just 10 days, with proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.



And who could forget the hoverboard? While we don’t quite have hoverboards just yet, this one comes pretty close. The husband and wife team behind the Hendo Hover more than doubled their crowd funded project goal in a little over 2 months this past December. Obviously, people seem pretty intent on getting the hoverboard out to market.


Another futuristic transportation prediction made by the movie were flying cars. Clearly, we don’t have flying cars, yet. Bummer. However, just last week BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz introduced us to the next generation of autonomous driving technologies at the 2015 Consumer Electronic Show. BMW unveiled this truly autonomous car that can park all by itself and can pick you up on command by communicating with BMW’s Remote Valet Parking Assistant app on your smartphone or smartwatch.


A truly self-parking car! It sure seems amazing, but will people really be interested? I would say so because just last week, The Boston Consulting Group revealed results from an in-depth analysis on consumer interest and adoption for Autonomous Vehicles, or AV’s as the industry calls them. According to their report, “self-driving-vehicle features could represent a $42 Billion Market by 2025.” The study also found that “partially autonomous vehicles are likely to hit the roads in large numbers by 2017” and that “one-fifth of U.S. drivers say that would pay more than $5k for features such as highway or urban autopilot.” Hold on to your hats because it looks like the automotive industry is about to go through a huge innovation period.




Stay Nimble, My Friend

Innovate or die. That’s been the business rallying cry… but I think there’s something missing there. Innovate FAST or die. As consumers we have been conditioned to expect bigger, better, over and over. Companies have created a relentless pressure cooker for themselves. Ideating, developing and delivering new products to market faster and faster is the order of the day. But we also know the stats – anywhere from 50-80% of new products fail. How can one quickly separate the winning ideas from the dogs? So, one can’t just be innovative – one must be astutely nimble too. When it comes to insights, we are not immune from the pressure. This is especially true here at BuzzBack. We are perennially curious about new technology and how it can be exploited and deployed to our industry’s advantage. We embrace disruption – it keeps us agile and creative. Lately this idea of harnessing technology to help our clients be smarter, nimble innovators has been keeping us up at night.

We want to see more brands experience wins like last year’s introduction of Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt – a product that went from a passing comment to home run launch at unheard of speed. How might we help inspire more success stories like this while mitigating the risk that often comes with moving faster than market insights can keep up? So we’ve been developing our own new concept to help clients expedite how they create, evolve, refine and advance ideas with consumer input, all while increasing the likelihood of marketplace success. Watch this space for more news about it, and details on how it works.

Are You A Pioneer?

My alma mater, Dartmouth College, just celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Kemeny’s BASIC computer language. I was lucky enough to have Prof Kemeny my freshman year right before he retired. He was a pioneer in computing and computer time-sharing. For example, when he assigned homework, he would tell us where the hangups would be BEFORE we even started!

Shortly after, Apple made Dartmouth a beta site for the first Macintosh, and as students we used Macs before most had personal computers. I have an original Mac 128K that still works! That’s when I fell for WYSIWYG and the visual desktop – the interface that enthralled Steve Jobs at Xerox PARC became the foundation for how we interact with technology today.

That was a formative experience for me that most definitely shaped my view of how visuals transform interactions. And perhaps that’s when the BuzzBack seed was planted deep in my brain somewhere.  Today, the welcoming, engaging visual interface is part and parcel to our online research applications – desktop, mobile, and more to come.

Being a pioneer isn’t easy.  Like other companies evolving long-held traditions, we had our share of critics or those that didn’t understand what we were trying to achieve.  But as pioneers, we stay true to our vision and keep cutting the trail toward our goal. We look to continuously push the envelope with applications that incorporate visual technology. In 2005, that started with our award-winning eCollage, and today we are rolling out new mobile tools for tablets, ipads, and more (watch this space for news soon).  In the meantime, here’s a look at how eCollage helps consumers express with visuals what may be hard to verbalize with words. It’s our own version of “Pin-ing” – but with specific market research purpose.




click on the video to view our eCollage demo



New Venues for Customer Engagement?

I am just returning from the UK, and I had a super high-tech plane – believe it or not, we had power outlets in every seat, plus every seat back had ‘online’ navigation of all the airline services, such as food, movies, etc. There was even an online survey! I couldn’t resist of course, so I started to answer a few questions. After about 3 minutes, and still 37 screens of ‘grid’ questions to go, I thought to myself, “Wow, there is opportunity for better customer engagement here.”

How many opportunities pass by because of poorly considered methodology? How often do companies miss the boat with surveys that risk being boring and more like tests – rather than engaging dialogues. With tech innovation disrupting life as we know it, market research is also a candidate for disruption. Innovation drives us here at BuzzBack. That’s why we’ve developed a portfolio of online techniques designed with visual cues, to foster engagement, make surveys more enjoyable, AND yield richer and more emotional insights as a result. This is critical as today’s consumer communicates more with pictures – for example the top social communities include FaceBook, Instagram and Pinterest – all with visual foundations. And perhaps this is the biggest change facing us as researchers – taking the cue from consumers on how to engage and communicate, rather than us dictating the rules.

Being Alone With Your Thoughts

Reading about Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech on the Farnam Street blog recently brought to mind how little time we corporate and supplier-side researchers have to be alone with our thoughts. Between the frenetic pace of the workday, countless meetings, all-day workshops, and the cube farms of corporate America, we seldom, if ever, have the time and space to simply be alone and think about the research we’re doing, to think about how we might do things better, to be creative and innovate. When pressed into a reactionary mode, innovation takes a back seat and we can easily find ourselves caught in the infinite loop of order taking and delivery.

Fortunately, I work from a home office and have some flexibility to carve out time for thinking.  And, even more important, I work for a company that is built on innovation and fosters the notion that all of us at BuzzBack have something to offer to keep the innovations coming.

I’m curious. Do you have enough “alone time” in your job?  Comments are welcome below. Stay tuned – we may address this issue further in a future BuzzPoll.

Sustainable and Innovative Food & Beverage Packaging Goes Commercial

If you haven’t heard yet, packaging innovation has made a huge leap towards sustainability recently. And I’m not talking about using less plastic, I’m talking about using no plastic at all!

It was just announced that Stonyfield has teamed up with WikiFoods to bring Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt Pearls to select Whole Foods stores in and around the Cambridge, MA area to test market them. WikiFoods, Inc. was launched by David Edwards, a bioengineer at Harvard in June of 2012. The natural and edible skin is made of electrostatic gel, natural food particles, nutritive ions and a polysaccharide.  You can see some examples of WikiPearl™ products in the video below and hear more about their collaboration with Stonyfield.

And that’s not the only sustainable food & beverage packaging story I’ve seen lately. I was completey mesmerized by Ooho, a double walled membrane made out of brown algae and calcium chloride. Three industrial design students from Spain have just won a Lexus Design Award for their water blob. However, they might need to solve the messiness factor (as shown below) before they go to market. Could these spherical membranes one day replace our plastic water bottle habit? Apparently, the process is fairly simple and inexpensive to create. They even have hopes that this will catch on as a DIY project. Ooho is showcasing their new design right now during Milan Design Week from April 8-14.

Of course, there’s still some waiting to be done before you might see any of these products at a store near you. In the mean time, you can try the WikiPearl Co-Creator here  

Photo credit: WikiFoods, Inc.


An Eye Exam that Could Detect Diabetes?

I recently went to the eye doctor for a check-up and was surprised to receive an Optomap Retinal Exam. First of all because I no longer had to go through the dreaded dilation drops, but second of all because I found out that at a whopping $90,000, it was the most expensive machine at the office! Shocked, I wondered why this machine could possibly cost so much.

It turns out the machine displays a 200o view of one’s retina, compared to the standard 45o view, and this is a huge difference in being able to identify diseases that can easily go undetected. There are several abnormalities that often present first in the retina that could go on to indicate the onset of many diseases. For example, cancerous melanomas can grow within the retina, damaged blood vessels in the retina can point to diabetes, etc. There was even a recent news story where an Optomap Retinal Exam saved a girl’s life after she was found to have hydrocephalus (that’s fluid buildup in the brain for those of us not in the medical field).

To me, the Optomap is representative of what innovation should be. Doing something not only better, but also going above and beyond. Who would have thought that going to the eye doctor could help identify non-eye related diseases?

Will Contact Lenses Soon Test Your Glucose Levels?

We have all heard and read about the global epidemic of diabetes. The main way diabetics monitor their blood glucose level is with blood test meters. For some, pricking their finger can be squeamish or unpleasant. However, there may be hope on the horizon. Today I saw an article that Google X is building a “smart contact lens.” Its purpose is meant to help diabetics keep track of their glucose levels. Inside the lens is a miniaturized wireless chip and glucose monitor that will measure the glucose levels of the wearer’s tears. Granted, there is still work to be done in seeing this come to market but it begs the question: how many other ways can innovative technology help us when it comes to our health?

While innovation and technology will continue to be at the forefront for the next generation of devices and medicine, it’s also apparent that it’s quickly changing the way that consumers educate themselves. Consumers are newly empowered and their habits are shifting. Now, more than ever, companies need to approach understanding consumer behavior using innovative techniques in order to home in on the actionable insights needed to put them at the forefront.


Observations from IIeX – Helping Clients Through MR Evolution

I’ve been back from IIeX for a few days now and here are some lasting impressions I came away with:

This year’s event was touted as The Insight Innovation Exchange.  And truly keeping with the theme, what struck me as interesting was how drastically the players at the insights table have changed over the past several years.  Communispace’s Diane Hessan observed that she never would have been invited to a conference like this 5 years ago because the firm’s work wasn’t considered research. Does Communispaces acceptance explain the “pushing the research boundary” presenters I encountered – like the ones who passively monitor Twitter data.  Is that within the realm of research and insights?

I think yes, and I embrace the spirit of the event which asks us all – whether firm or client – to challenge our notions about research and how meaningful discoveries are made.  As client guides through the evolving landscape of MR, we need to encourage them to think differently about consumer interactions and dialogues.  Our role is to lead them to approaches that address their challenges from atypical perspectives – factoring in completely new technologies and techniques, such as neuromonitoring, facial recognition, and more.  This sentiment was echoed by several presenters.

Our own presentation focused on changing the dialogue.  In our case, we illustrated how we brought TOGETHER doctors and patients in one forum, when typically these groups are separated, and the powerful, positive impact that has on the patient/provider relationship. Can we change it for the better? Yes! (For more info on that, click here.)

But while I’m all for innovation (after all, that’s BuzzBack’s reason for being), it can’t be innovation for innovation’s sake.  At the end of the day, no matter how ‘cool’ or creative the insights supplier, the challenge remains very simple: making sure we are delivering methods of meaning and value.  And then our job is to help clients understand where these novelties fit in their world, what the approach brings, what it delivers – especially if it’s radically different to what they did before.