Perception Research Services
August 4, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Consumer Research Eye-Tracking Technology for Marketers
Perception Research Services
Since 1972, Perception Research Services (www.prsresearch.com)
has specialized in research to help marketers break through clutter, connect
with shoppers and win at retail. PRS pioneered the use of eye-tracking
technology in consumer research and the company remains a thought leader and
innovator in this field, through new services and technologies such as
PRS Mobile Eye-Tracking and the PRS Retail Labs. PRS now conducts over
800 custom studies annually on a global basis – on behalf of Unilever, HP,
MARS and Wal-mart, among many others – to help marketers deepen their
shopper understanding and develop more effective packaging and shopper
Centre West, Suite 5
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – August 2, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Young, what is the focus at Perception today?
Mr. Young: Our focus is on speaking with and observing shoppers in order to help our clients “win at retail.” Our primary focus is helping companies develop and assess new packaging systems, but we also help them understand and influence the shopping experience, through merchandising, displays, planograms and category management.
CEOCFO: Perception has been around for quite some time. What are some of the current concepts that work? What is different now in packaging, in what people are able to do and what the customer is looking for or what garners customer interest?
Mr. Young: Overall, I’d say that more has probably changed with our clients (the big CPG marketers) than with shoppers. Our clients (such as Unilever, MARS, and AB InBev) are really understanding and appreciating the importance of packaging and shopper marketing. Therefore, they are increasingly looking for a global research partner who can provide consistency in approach and expertise in these areas. For PRS, that’s meant becoming the primary global partner for many companies. Today, we are conducting our studies across 30-40 countries and we’ve been continually building our expertise and our local client servicing, through offices in London, Geneva, Singapore and most recently Shanghai.
In terms of connecting with shoppers, I think that many of the fundamental challenges have been evident since we started in 1972. We still need to think about the importance of breaking through in-store clutter and grabbing attention. We still need to think about ensuring that brands are very easily shop-able and that on-pack communication is clear and concise. We still need to think about making a quick emotional or visceral connection with people and driving that quick smile, so to speak.
What has probably changed the most is the sheer amount of clutter and competition. Across nearly every country, there are bigger stores, more products, and more variants. These issues of clutter and complexity have multiplied and they’ve made it even more important to have really great packaging.
CEOCFO: With so many people shopping online and researching online, even if it is a new shampoo that does something specific, would packaging become more important because many people already know what they want?
Mr. Young: Well, I’d say that opinions differ on the impact of the Web and digital marketing. Some people say that online shopping has made (or will make) packaging less important. Others say that, given that people have done homework online in many cases, they then come to the store looking for a certain image or icon - and the packaging can become that much more important.
Certainly, we are more focused than before on the interaction between the online and the in-store shopping experience. One aspect is making sure that new packaging systems don’t just work well in Wal-Mart or Target, but they also come across properly online - and that there is a consistency of appearance and key information delivery. Another is exploring the potential for interactivity QR codes on packaging that can link to digital content that might entertain or provide more information for people on complex purchases.
Overall, I’d say there are a ton of very interesting possibilities that were not there five years ago, but the challenge is how to keep it simple, without overwhelming or confusing people. Over and over again, we find that if you put too much copy or content in front of people, it will push them away. We have to remember that shoppers are usually time-pressed and they want to be able to navigate quickly. If packaging and displays do not help them shop, people will move towards a simpler or easier solution.
CEOCFO: What do you understand fundamentally at Perception about designing a study that perhaps others do not either because they do not have the experience or they just do not know how to get it right?
Mr. Young: Design is an area that is very prone to research mistakes, because it is very tempting to turn shoppers into “art directors,” by focusing on what they “like” and encouraging them to provide direction. This seems intuitive, but it is the wrong way to approach research. People will give you very well intentioned responses about what they prefer, but the problem is that these comments have very little correlation to what they actually do in store. So if you ask the wrong questions or you put people in very artificial situations, you get very misleading feedback.
One of the important goals or principles for us is to keep people in a shopping mindset. Much of what we do is very behaviorally based: It is not asking people direct questions. Instead, it is using our PRS Mobile Eye-Tracking to observe what happens when they come to the shelf, when they are comparing one product or package versus another – and possibly when they are checking their smartphones. Then immediately afterward, we may ask some questions to help understand the “why” behind a person’s actions.
The expertise we’ve gathered over the years is also very important, in terms of partnering with Design professionals and other marketing and creative people. We need to give Designers the insight that they need to develop better solutions - and to point out problems and barriers, when we find them. However, we also need to stop short of dictating solutions (“make this bigger and move this to the left”) and to leave them the freedom to solve these issues in different ways.
CEOCFO: Do you often know in advance what the likely result will be?
Mr. Young: Often, we do have a strong intuition. For example, some clients are so familiar with their own brands that they lose perspective and think that every minor change is enormous. As a result, they bring us designs that are very similar to one another (and unlikely to be noticeable to a shopper).
In those cases, I really encourage PRS people to voice our concerns to clients at the start of studies at the outset. Ultimately, our job is to help clients create successful packaging and shopper marketing systems. To do that, we need to share our experience expertise – and ideally to become involved in the development and screening process. That’s why we have a large Qualitative research team – and why we created the new PRS Retail Labs, as they are venues for partnering with clients earlier in the design process.
CEOCFCO: You have real shoppers and also have simulated shopping. Tell me how you conduct both of these and a little bit about the depth of the studies you conduct?
Mr. Young: At the beginning of an initiative, we often do in-store research or in-home ethnographic research, to understand how people shop or really use a product or package. At this upfront stage, we want to be in real environments, because we really want to understand actual behavior. Are people walking right by something in store? Are they confused at the shelf? Are they taking a product home, putting it in a cupboard and it never gets seen again or used? Recently, we’ve been using digital approaches, to have people record their own experiences and perceptions.
Later, when new concepts have been developed, that is typically when we use a controlled environment to simulate the introduction of a new product or package. This helps ensure confidentiality of new ideas and gives us more time to spend with people, to observe their behavior and understand their perceptions. We do this at our PRS Retail Labs (typically for Qualitative studies) and at central location facilities or online (for larger Quantitative studies, when we are speaking with hundreds or thousands of people). In these studies, we are typically using our eye-tracking technology (to understand what is seen and missed at the shelf) and conduct shopping and findability exercises (to make sure that people can find the right product on shelf).
CEOCFO: You are global, so where do you see the most growth from and are there areas of the world that are looking at packaging more than others?
Mr. Young: Generally speaking, we see higher growth rates coming from Asia, Latin American and the Middle East. However, in many cases, we are doing global studies, in which clients are trying to develop a packaging system or brand identity that works across the world. They want to have one look around the world, to drive efficiencies in marketing and production. However, we often find is there are different design preferences, competitive landscapes and “retail realities” from one region to another. You may have very small sachets in India versus large bottles in the U.S. Or very simple packaging can convey sophistication and elegance in one region, but signal a very cheap/low-end product in another. We are constantly helping companies to balance those considerations and find the right level of global consistency (and local customization).
CEOCFO: I am guessing there are not many companies that have the depth of knowledge and experience as Perception. What is the competitive landscape?
Mr. Young: Fortunately, we identified this growing niche about 20 years ago and we’ve been able to establish PRS as the primary expert in this area. With that said, we are competing against some of the very, very large research agencies, like IPSOS and TNS, which have offices in every country and are often working with our clients in other areas (such as advertising, etc.). So for us, the challenge is to continually demonstrate the added value of working with a specialist that really knows packaging and shopper research.
CEOCFO: Put it all together for our readers. Why pay attention to Perception?
PRS is the global leader in packaging and shopper research. And
increasingly, the world’s biggest companies are recognizing just how
critical these areas are to their success – and they are devoting more
resources and energy in this direction. This trend – and our unmatched focus
and expertise in helping clients “win at retail” - leaves PRS very well
positioned to continue leading and growing.
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