March 26, 2019

Understanding Package Design Testing for CPG Brands

Packaging is the face of your product. It’s a key driver of sales in retail environments and acts as a chief way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. But in our experience, many companies don’t give the packaging design process the respect it deserves—particularly when it comes to testing.  

Companies that want to compete at the point-of-purchase need to understand the tenets of packaging design testing and why it’s so important. A bit of effort in the testing phase gives you a wealth of information you can use to better tailor your packaging to your customers, provided you handle it correctly.

Testing Reduces Risk, Improves ROI

The key goal of package design testing is to hammer out problems with your design before you produce it at scale.

If consumers don’t like some aspect of your layout, or they’re confused by your packaging in some way, you’ll need to rework your design to appeal more to their sensibilities. It’s an unfortunate fact, but no matter how much effort you put into your packaging design, the final vote goes to the end user.

In this way, testing works as a key method for risk reduction, particularly for totally new products that lack established markets. And it also influences ROI in terms of your production costs. Modern commercial printing might be cheaper than it used to be, but from a cost/benefit perspective, it doesn’t make sense to launch a set of labels without doing your due diligence.

How to Structure Package Design Testing

Package design testing encompasses several types of data collection, from pre-design research to post-production surveys. Start this process as early as possible in the packaging design phase; you’ll need these insights as soon as possible to give your designers some material to work with for their mock-ups and prototypes.

Types of Testing

The way you collect data is dependent on the research method used. In consumer packaging research, there are a few common options:

  • Observational research, which involves working with select customers and observing their behaviors in the retail shopping environment
  • Guided assessments, such as focus groups directed by a moderator
  • Online studies, great for collecting large volumes of responses
  • In-depth interviews that provide more detailed information about customer motivations, perceptions, and preferences

The idea here is to leverage research methodologies in tandem to get a complete view of your market’s perceptions. What do they think of your brand? Does your new packaging stand out on the shelf? How long do they typically spend comparing products, and is your new design worth consideration?

Initial Research

To begin, plan out your research goals and determine a reasonable scope for each effort. Proper planning is a crucial part of getting an organizational buy-in, from your C-suite to your marketers to your designers. Everyone needs to be on the same page with the same goals in mind.

Start by testing certain concepts individually or in small groups. Structure your testing to focus on individual elements one at a time, such as your packaging layout, color choice, packaging copy, and so on.

You’ll get far more concrete information asking customers specific questions like “Does the package’s messaging make you feel confident about the brand?” rather than generalized ones like “What’s your opinion of the product?”

In this initial research phase, your design team will take this information and come up with a bunch of prototypes based on your initial findings. These will eventually be pared down through further research and competitor assessment (as we’ll discuss below), but it’s good to have lots of options to work with, if for no other reason than the fact that most consumers don’t know what they like until they see it.

Build out a few options for your designers and consumers to play with and go from there.

Testing Against Competitors

As you use these methods to learn more about your packaging, you’ll need to make sure you’re testing against a comparative set similar to your own brand. In other words, your biggest competitors. If you want packaging to have high purchase intent, you’ll need to make sure you’re differentiating yourself in the marketplace.

Look at your competitors. What are they doing? What strategies are they employing that you aren’t? In your experience, how do these strategies play into your market’s perceptions? It’s important to understand what they’re doing well as well as where they’re going wrong.

Compare these issues and keep in mind issues that may create conflicts in your data, such as the relative size of the competitors. For example, if you’re a small manufacturer, it can be helpful to assess what industry giants are doing—but their manufacturing capabilities will far exceed yours, so you may not be able to apply the same strategies they do. Along the same lines, if you’re entering a crowded field with well-established players, your market may have certain expectations based on what your competitors have already put out.

This provides an opportunity for differentiation—but it also poses a challenge, as expectations play a huge role in purchasing intent. You don’t want to swing too far in the other direction and build a crazy package design your customers don’t understand.

Design Your Packaging With Care

One of the overarching goals of the package design testing process is to get both objective and subjective information about your product. It’s important to get as much information as possible, but be careful about applying too many changes too quickly.

Like your other brand marketing efforts, slow and structured changes are the way to go. Perform a structured testing process for each phase of your packaging design to hammer out any issues that might come up. Rushing the process will defeat the purpose. Go slowly, and make your improvements one step at a time.


by Michael Keplinger
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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