December 2008

Dear Pieter,

Welcome to Sixth Sense, the newsletter that takes you behind the scenes in the world of sensory and consumer product guidance.

In this December issue of the newsletter, our journey through the product development lifecycle takes on a distinctly seasonal flavour. Quite literally, as we look at defining your new product concept and the research method known as conjoint analysis – and apply them to that festive favourite: Christmas pudding. We realise, of course, that it's unlikely you're planning to launch a new version of this particular product – but rest assured the principles outlined in our main article and case study below apply to just about anything, be it puddings or perfume.

Whether you're planning to eat lots of Christmas pudding – or something else entirely - we'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. And to let you know that instead of sending out Christmas cards this year, we'll be making a donation to a local drop-in centre that offers a real lifeline to homeless and disadvantaged people. You can read more about what CIRDIC does and the people it helps by clicking here.

With festive greetings,

The Team at Sensory Dimensions

Making Sense of … Defining the new product concept

This is the stage in the life of a product, when, having whittled down your ideas and thoroughly researched your market using qualitative techniques (such as the focus groups we talked about in October's Newsletter), you need to finalize your product concept.

It could be a waste of your money, for example, to start formulating a recipe for your new pudding before you know whether your idea for a new square shape is likely to be accepted by the general public and by retailers. If there is a complete lack of interest in this kind of pudding – no matter how great it might taste – there would be no point investing in more expensive stages like recipe development, production trials or packaging prototypes.

So, some quantitative research is required at this stage to finalize the new concept before moving forward in the NPD process. The technique of conjoint analysis is ideal for quantifying the appeal of different elements of a new concept and refining the concept into a winning one.

Talking Sense About … Conjoint Analysis

The principle behind conjoint analysis is very simple. It's based on the idea that, as consumers, we don't react to just one element of a product but to a combination of elements. So, when you're eating a Christmas pudding, for example, you don't just respond to one ingredient – the nuts, say – but to a whole combination of factors, one of which might well be nuts – plus the amount of fruit, how alcoholic the taste is, whether the texture is heavy or light, and so on…

And if you had bought your pudding in a shop, you would already have been through a similar process with the packaging. For example, whether you preferred a see-through or an opaque wrapper; a ceramic bowl versus one made of aluminium foil; a 250g pudding costing £4.50 versus a 350g one costing £7.99. And so on.

Conjoint analysis is a way of defining a product that has an optimum combination of the features that will most appeal to its target market. So, to finalize our new Christmas pudding concept we might want to decide what is the best shape (square or round), packaging type (ceramic or microwavable container), ingredient additions (with cognac or with nuts) and texture type (traditional rich or new light) to specify to the product development team.

We then simply ask consumers (typically at least 120) to say how likely they would be to buy each of the 16 possible combinations,

For example, 2 of the 16 possible combinations would be:

Product 1

  • Square pudding
  • Microwavable pack
  • With cognac
  • New light texture

Product 2

  • Round pudding
  • Ceramic bowl
  • With nuts
  • Traditional rich texture

By analysing the responses, we would know the relative importance of each feature to a respondent's overall evaluation and also how the market is segmented. For example, analysis may show that for some people, pudding shape is top priority, while for others a light textured pud is what matters most to them. Armed with this information, we could not only make an informed decision as to the most successful concept or concepts to move forward with, but also predict which segments of the market the product would most appeal to, and therefore the most likely marketing opportunities.

Most importantly, we can give this finalized concept to the product development team to formulate, confident that we will be developing a product that consumers will ultimately want to buy.


Launch of Sensory Dimensions Ltd Nottingham branch

October 2008 saw the launch of our new facility in Nottingham. Over 30 clients took the opportunity to attend and, with Tracey Hollowood, the Nottingham branch Director, take a guided tour of the new premises, and see a photo presentation on the transformation of the building from the original shell to the present state-of-the-art sensory and consumer testing facility. Tracey also gave a short presentation on Sensory Dimensions' research specialities and our new self-funded programme, investigating and validating new methodologies. The evening concluded with a celebration drink and a home-cooked hot buffet.

If you missed the October launch event, you are warmly invited to view the new facility – just let Tracey know when you'd like to visit.

Eurosense 2008

Earlier this year, at the conference ‘A Sense of Innovation' in Hamburg, Dr Tracey Hollowood presented results from a recent Sensory Dimensions-funded study involving the novel application of the ‘Repertory Grid' technique to investigate consumers' emotional response to twelve commercially available toothpastes.

From thirty in-depth interviews, we discovered what emotions might be involved and identified the toothpaste packaging characteristics that cued these responses. The intensity of the responses was rated, with multivariate analysis of this data revealing that the combination of a well known brand, an interesting and informative pack and whitening claims evoked feelings of trust, confidence, excitement and approval. Interestingly, these attributes were not sufficient in isolation to generate the same combination of emotions, nor was any one pack style linked to a more positive response.

In a subsequent session, respondents rated their expectation of key sensory characteristics. Products synonymous with the emotions listed above were expected to be effective, high quality toothpastes, with good breath freshening, whitening and tingling properties. Not surprisingly, these emotions and product attributes were consistent with respondents' likely purchasing decisions.

The final stage of the study involved a Home Use Test (HUT), during which respondents made a ‘blind' assessment of each product. Comparison of these data indicated that some products scored more highly for sensory and performance attributes than expected. Conversely, other well known brands performed badly compared to expectation. The impact of a poor performance on the initial emotional response was discussed and it was clear that interpretation of any typical product assessment would benefit from the introduction of emotional data; and reinforce its value to product developers in understanding the ‘emotional' impact AND sensory expectation derived from their packaging designs.

The presentation was well received by the audience. It has resulted not only in several enquiries about the use of Repertory Grid in this context, but also in several invitations for Tracey to speak at events in 2009.

The research demonstrates Sensory Dimensions' commitment to enhancing the quality and variety of services available to our clients, and is just one example of our ongoing programme of self-funded research projects, investigating and validating new methodologies or novel applications of old favourites.

If you would like a pdf copy of Tracey's presentation in Hamburg, or are interested in finding out more about the Repertory Grid method, please get in touch.

Christmas Office Hours

Finally, we'll be taking a well-earned rest over the Christmas period, and closing both our offices from 24th December until 5th January.