Ethnographic research: What CPG brand managers can teach us...

The current buzz in package design at consumer packaged goods companies is ethnographic research. Rather than testing new packages in a sterile focus group setting, the idea is to get out in the field where the package is actually used and watch how consumers interact with it. How often are manufacturers of medical devices and pharmaceuticals checking in with the actual end user of the product? I heard an anecdote at last year's HealthPack conference regarding sterile syringes in individual pillow packs. This particular package passed with flying colors every drop and ship test, and even survived storage in the hospital supply room after shelves had been readjusted to accommodate the taller box. The only problem was when the nurse would grab the syringe and stick it in the pocket of his or her smock. Pop! The pillow pack couldn't take the real-world environment.

I've heard it said the healthcare packaging community is slow to change. But suppliers of materials and closures are innovating every day, bringing added value to the product through packaging. In a market where we are in real danger of sinking to the commodity level, any added value could be a brand enhancer. Maybe these new innovations could be tested "ethnographically" with the nurses, clinicians and patients who would actually use them and reap the benefits.

(For more, read our special report on universal design.)

--By Jim Chrzan, Publisher
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