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rkuchinsky
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Thanks for posting back here to share your thoughts and process. I'm with NURB. It's unfortunate that so many marketing and sales people both students and professionals are still in the realm of thought that a focus group knows best... It's perhaps something hard to quantify or prove, but I find time and time again, the results speak for themselves.

The thing is, that most consumers (and by extension marketing and sales people) are always looking backwards. A new product is created based on old needs and conceptions and very rarely to people actually know what they want. The maxim "people want what they know, they don't know what they want" is almost always true. Look at the historical development of anything new, and you'll find this reaction. People didn't see the need for cars as horses worked just fine. Maybe less poop was all they wanted. People were adverse to the idea of computers and even big business couldn't see the future potential.

This is a common trap, and one reason why I put little or no stock in things like focus groups. At the very best, they are often plagued with leading questions, or not asking the right ones. Would love to see the questions you asked or how the proposals were presented - i think that is as much important as the result of the "testing".

Designers on the other hand are often the very few people to think "forward". Aside from any specifics of the designs presented, good or bad, the ideas and new thinking is key.

The customer may or may not be king, but in the end they likely know the very least. Not everything should be Apple, but the key is the foundation of thinking. The concept I would say, is king. Having a good foundation for this, knowing the brand, and the placement in the market is one thing. Tweaking a bunch of colors and pushing elements around does not touch on this foundation.

All this being said, while it may seem like I have something against marketing and sales, in general I do not. It's however the common practices and thinking I do object with. Baby steps, change for change's sake and believing the common public knows better than a professional who is trained to think ahead I think are damaging prospects for all involved.

R
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PackageID
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iab wrote:The customer is king and if the only information they got from/about their customer was from focus groups, I would prize that data over a designer's "vision" of a brand at any time. A product's brand and positioning strategy do not and should not always be Apple-esque, which is the direction most designers will gravitate.


I agree that customer or consumer, (however you want to look at it) is king, but designing a package or product based on what you are told in a focus group extremely dangerous. The consumer does not always know what they want. Most of the time you hear "this is too busy" or "That looks weird" or other open ended comment that you need a designer to look at the product and translate. I have to agree with NURB that there is a problem with MBA programs teaching their students that you have to do exactly what you hear in the focus groups. You have to remember that focus groups are generally 20 peoples opinion and a lot of time in only on region of the country. A lot of times what you get out of these groups is good, but you do have to read between the lines. Marketing managers are not very good at this. They hear what they want to hear and do things anyway even if the consumer does not want it. (dsigner I am not referring to you with this comment.) Having a designer there to guide them is not a bad thing and is something that should be encouraged in school.
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Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby NURB » December 17th, 2009, 6:33 pm

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iab wrote:Hold on there Hoss. You could just as easily wrote, "I think there is a problem with schools teaching their design students to only focus on what is cool, hip, etc., and not what's best for the brand."


Nice! I haven't been called Hoss in a long time...

I would definitely have said "I have a problem with schools teaching their design students to only focus on what is cool, hip, etc., and not what's best for the brand." If that were the case, but I don't believe it is. I'm sure there are some programs out there like that, but the majority aren't. I'm certainly not discounting dsinger's research efforts, because it does play an important role. I just don't believe it is the primary one.

I'm not going to really expand much on my post because Richard did a nice job doing it for me.
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Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby iab » December 18th, 2009, 2:37 pm


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rkuchinsky wrote:The customer may or may not be king, but in the end they likely know the very least. Not everything should be Apple, but the key is the foundation of thinking. The concept I would say, is king. Having a good foundation for this, knowing the brand, and the placement in the market is one thing. Tweaking a bunch of colors and pushing elements around does not touch on this foundation.


This may be a semantic arguement, but I will still say the customer is king and they certainly know what drives them to a purchase. They are the only ones to tell you what they value, what they don't and designers or marketing are certainly not mind readers. I see the designer imposing their personal values of what the positioning strategy should be way too often. Which would be fine but it is only 1 data point and certainly can miss the brand value.

I'm sure between the two of us, we could come up with dozens, if not hundreds of designs for this package. Without the focus from the customer, it would be no different than throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks, a most inefficient methodology. I will agree how the research is conducted is vital, but that information provides the direction a designer needs. Where I also see tend to see a problem is how the designer communicates their interpretation of that information back to the client, connecting the dots is also vital. But that is for another thread.

Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby NURB » December 18th, 2009, 2:46 pm

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iab wrote:I will agree how the research is conducted is vital, but that information provides the direction a designer needs. Where I also see tend to see a problem is how the designer communicates their interpretation of that information back to the client, connecting the dots is also vital.


I guess that's my point as well. I feel all too often focus groups are taken as gospel truth, rather than a piece of the puzzle. Marketing schools would do themselves well to teach how to expand the focus of a focus group to get a broader picture of what the consumer wants. I've been apart of several focus groups, and having the problem solving, quick thinking background I have, most of the questions only have one "correct" answer. It becomes painfully obvious in most instances what the team putting on the focus group wants to hear. Because of my involvement, I tend to be very skeptical of validity of focus groups but I don't discount their place in the research.
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Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby iab » December 18th, 2009, 2:47 pm


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NURB wrote:Nice! I haven't been called Hoss in a long time...

...snip...

I just don't believe it is the primary one.


I hope you took no offense. It was to be taken as a humorous saying. My apologies if it rubbed you the wrong way.

I'll have to differ with you on that. Without the research, how can you objectively evaluate any of the concepts based on what's best for the brand and not what's best in a design sense. Which one of RK's concepts is "best"? Without objectives, you will have some putz telling you "I don't like blue" (which has actually happened to me). If you explain objectively why blue was chosen based on the customer research, you then can tell the putz their opinion is irrelevant.

(Not that I would use that language in a presentation, but I have been tempted. :wink: )


Edit: I see we posted nearly at the same time. We are essentially in agreement. Nevermind.

Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby iab » December 18th, 2009, 2:55 pm


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PackageID wrote:
I agree that customer or consumer, (however you want to look at it) is king, but designing a package or product based on what you are told in a focus group extremely dangerous.



From a tactical sense, I am in complete agreement. But from a strategic sense, the research needs to be the main driver.

Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby NURB » December 18th, 2009, 3:00 pm

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iab wrote:I hope you took no offense. It was to be taken as a humorous saying.


Not at all! If you met me in person, you'd probably call me Hoss.
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Will add more a bit later, good discussion going on. At the moment, though, I just want to share a (what I believe is true, told to me by a design prof - though I might be embellishing a bit as I last heard it over 10 years ago) anecdote about focus groups and user testing:

A department store was launching a new line of linens. They weren't sure which direction to go at first launch so made up a wide variety of patterns. Some more contepmorary, some more traditional, etc. Towels, sheets, and the like. They held a focus group in store, with their target market (housewives, old ladies and the bunch). They invited the customers in to a room, had them look at the samples and asked them which ones they thought were the nicest, and which ones they would buy. Overwhelming majority went for one direction, surprisingly a more traditional feel than the focus group organizers and store people guessed.

They launched with the new pattern to fanfare. After a few weeks however, sales were miserable. The store held another focus group. The same patterns, and procedure, but with a different set of customers (perhaps a different location). Same results - the poorly performing pattern was the overwhelming majority choice. This time, however the organizers added a final step to the procedure.

After the test was complete and the participants were thanked for their participation, they were escorted out of the testing room and by the front door, samples of all the patterns were on a table. Each participant was told they could choose one sheet set free as a thank you for participating.

The interesting thing - almost all participants chose a different pattern than the one they had just said was the one they like the most and would buy. The picked for themselves a more contemporary pattern.

After the second focus group and the surprising results of the "free gift" the store selected the more contemporary pattern that was most often selected by the participants to take home to launch. It was a success.

The point is this-

1. In a focus group, people often give an answer that they believe represents the "group" the best. They realize that they are being tested as a certain target demographic (say 44 year old mom, or whatever) and try to give the best answer for the group, instead of for themselves.
2. In short, in a focus group (especially with others present), people often reply with an answer that they think the person asking the question wants to hear.
3. If you don't ask the right question, you don't get the right answer, and even so, sometimes you need to interpret the results.


Research is fine and dandy, but at the end of the day were are creative professional and yes, our opinion I believe does matter more than joe average. If it didn't we wouldn't have a job. You can't design anything, a strategy a product, a brand by polling the masses and putting together the lowest common denominator.

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Great response Richard,

I was trying to find an excerpt to quote you on, but I didn't want to take anything out at all.

Well spoken.
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Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby iab » December 18th, 2009, 5:34 pm


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Of course the opinion of the creative professional is more important than the average Joe when it comes to the implementation of the product. How well that implementation fulfills the brand strategy can only be measured by the customer.

As PackageID noted, using a focus group to determine tactical decisions like pattern, color, font or any other spec can be very dangerous, too many cooks... There are many techniques that can make it less danagerous - having written individual responses before opening to a group discussion, one-on-one interviews, and a skilled facilitator can combat group think. Also, having more than one way to ask the same question, as in RK's example, can broaden the base of information.

Being in marketing though, I was assuming dsinger was using the focus group research at a more stategic level and not for evaluating individual designs. At that level, you are determining impact and differentiation of the brand value and should also be able to determine positioning strategy. Should Alka-Seltzer be about clinical efficacy, pain relief, quick relief, simple solution, time tested, tiny bubbles or a plethora other of possible strategies? If you don't ask your customer why they use the product, how would you know which direction to take? That will define the brief for the designer. Designing to clinical efficacy will yield much different results than designing to tiny bubbles.

A focus group can be used to create the long list of strategies as it can be used to evaluate the strategies. But the evaluation should not be solely determined by the focus group. You also need to align the stategy with the company culture - can they deliver on the strategy. The strategy also needs to consider competition - do you want to go head to head with Tums with a simalr strategy to theirs or do you want to take a different path.

Once you are comfortable with a strategy, how you execute the design of that strategy has a broad range. Do you want a meat and potatoes design like Craftsman or more of an image like Apple. Again, the focus group can assist, but it must be balanced with the company's capabilities and competative landscape. I have found the best results from that balance of information comes when design and marketing are privy to all of the information and things aren't just thrown over the fence. But again, that is a discussion for another thread.

Re: Advice on a theoretical Alka-Seltzer refresh?

Postby Cameron » December 18th, 2009, 5:36 pm

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I think the disconnect here is in the execution. I doubt any designers here would dispute customer wants. They would (and I do) contend that:

1 - the wants are usually common sense.
2 - there are many different tangible designs that would fulfill those wants.
3 - product designers are uniquely equipped with a skillset to transform those wants into a beautiful, functional object.
4 - exploring the embodiment of an idea yields results that customers cannot conceive on their own, because the customer's creativity is in a realm or combination of realms not suited to product design. And yet, once the ideal solution exists, people love the product!


EDIT: So an an example, a place I've worked at recently spent thousands of dollars and about 8 weeks deciding on what color their product should be. In the end, the decision was to use the color we originally planned on! Wouldn't a designer familiar with the context, industry trends, and aesthetic talent have saved that company all that time and money?
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Wanted to bump this and see if the poster has any feedback. I would love to here the outcome of the project.
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iab wrote:Hold on there Hoss.


Haha, I'm not sure what I was thinking about that made me remember this, but I almost lol'ed at my desk.

Anyways, we never did hear back from the OP on how it went did we?
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I think you guys should stop looking at what you are doing wrong and start checking out what others are doing right. From the looks of that shelf, it seems like everyone in the competition is doing just as bad of a job. Check out thedieline.com and other packaging web pages to get some ideas. Dont just look in your category of product. Think of how Method detergents went about their package. All those detergent jugs looked the same, then they came a long and did a great job. I hate the old cardboard box that you and most of your competitors use. Why cant the container be the package? My guess is you will need a complete overhaul, but the opportunities are endless here.

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