Market Research And Unconscious Factors

Market Research

Market research expert: Peter Knowles
Market research and pack design expert
Peter Knowles

Peter Knowles' Heawood Research Limited is the company behind Packprobe®, a quantitative market research survey technique for measuring the effectiveness of designs at the subconscious level.

Contact Peter Knowles

How Measuring Unconscious Perceptions in design research can give you a competitive edge

by Peter Knowles

Market Research lays great emphasis on the product's appeal through its packaging.

For Market Research to be effective, it needs to take account of your customers' perceptions of packaging against your competitors. And it is in the perceptions that personality, psychological or unconscious factors play a vital role (for further information, see the brief supplementary article about market research and the importance of the pack).

Market research and psychological scaling

Different stimuli initiate a variety of psychological processes within the consumer - delight, revulsion, hunger, longing, etc. Psychological scaling is a method of translating these psychological processes into a form that can be measured and then quantified.

Market research focus groups cannot measure psychological attributes. Individuals react in predictable ways to stimuli, but it is unrealistic to expect them to verbalise about processes that are below the level of awareness.

However, individuals can usually make order judgements, even when they cannot explain their choices. For example, someone may find it difficult to say what constitutes 'quality' in a car, yet show him two models and he will be able to say almost instantly which has more quality. It follows that the position of a stimulus on a psychological scale can be measured for a number of respondents, with survey results having important implications in marketing terms.

Survey Method

In order to measure the psychological attributes, we avoid the inadequacies of verbal description by directly quantifying the immediate visual experience. We literally measure the psychological attributes of names, concepts, containers, packs, colours and graphic devices. Our methods quantify the psychological impact that a particular stimulus has on an individual.

To do this one firstly identifies those factors likely to be important for sales success. If the product is frozen peas, then it is important that the package should communicate 'freshness'. Different colours can then be scaled in terms of the dimension of freshness and the colour highest on this attribute identified and included in the design. This technique is then repeated to test a selection of names, logos, layouts, etc. and concludes with an assessment of buying preference. Our method is thus directly measuring something extremely relevant to market performance. We learn both how the products perform relative to each other and why.


Packprobe surveys usually operate via street interviews - life-size photography of the pack is usually quite adequate. Each respondent sees only two packs from which they will have to make a series of forced preferences in respect of the range of attributes being measured, including the ultimate buying preference question. All the packs are assessed in a round robin fashion, each being assessed as one of a pair with all the other designs.

Example of 3 pack test

Current Design New Design A New Design B Sample per pair
X X - 50
X - X 50
- X X 50
Each design seen 100 times Each design seen 100 times Each design seen 100 times Total sample 150

The results are presented in the form of a radar diagram that provides an easy to understand 'signature' for each design, that clearly illustrates similarities and differences.

market research

The readings that can be obtained are concise and unambiguous: even fine differences in consumer perception are usually distinguishable, yet research such as this is rarely more expensive than alternative, less robust, qualitative methods.

For more information, you can contact market research and pack design expert, Peter Knowles

(c) ©2004 Peter Knowles.

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