Brand owners like Kimberly-Clark, Unilever and Procter & Gamble are utilising a range of digital tools from eye tracking to virtual stores to enhance their understanding of consumers.
Kimberly-Clark, a major player in the health and personal care sectors, deployed retina-tracking cameras when developing new packaging for Viva paper towels.
Its objective was to determine which of the potential designs most effectively attracted the attention of shoppers within the first ten seconds of looking at a shelf, and if this held true for different pack sizes.
"Combining these factors helped us select a 'wave' design over a 'splash' design," Kim Greenwood, senior manager at the firm's virtual reality group, told the Wall Street Journal.
Steve Posavac, professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University, argued the reasons for this kind of strategy was obvious. "There's often a big disconnect between what people want to do and what they say they want to do," he said.
Unilever, the FMCG manufacturer, created a 3D virtual representation of a retail store when updating the bottle for its Axe body wash, and asked volunteers to wear glasses containing sensors that monitored their head movement.
Eye-tracking research in the deodorant segment conducted by the company also discovered that stores should use angled shelves allowing stock units to slide forward, and always face the front. This boosted category sales by 3.5% for one retailer.
"With a virtual shelf set, in a few seconds, with a click of the mouse, you can modify your product, your pack, your display, and really co-create it with the consumer almost in real time," Joanne Crudele, Unilever's director, global skin consumer technical insight, said.
For its part, Procter & Gamble, a rival to Unilever, has leveraged digital tools in various ways, such as to demonstrate possible new products and packaging to participants in focus groups, thus gauging reactions much more rapidly than physical prototypes.
It has also exploited virtual stores to ascertain whether its brands stood out on the shelf, and implemented eye-tracking studies to learn how shoppers view websites and other similar material.
Bob McDonald, P&G's chief executive, stated that the impetus behind these moves came upon attending a meeting for Pampers, seeing a product model, and being told: "Don't touch it. It's a $50,000 diaper, and it took us four months to put it together."
Procter & Gamble has reduced the cost of making prototypes to around $1,500, with approximately 80% of its new lines now incorporating modelling and simulation in the development stage.