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Assessing how products resonate with consumers and using those insights to
refine them is a critical part of product development — and just one way that
strategic insights add value for brands.
When leading paper and packaging company WestRock
developed a new paper-based produce package, everyone was excited about its
potential. The innovation was backed by both customer demand and our own
consumer research, which indicated that today’s buyers are prioritizing
sustainable packaging — and twice as many consumers associate sustainability
with paper versus
While the team had high hopes for the product’s performance, testing it in the
marketplace with the help of a consumer brand ended up being pivotal to the
Assessing how products resonate with consumers and then using those insights to
make modifications to refine them is a critical part of product development —
and just one way that strategic insights add value for brands. Insights can be
instrumental at every stage of the process — from inspiring ideas to guiding the
evolution of products so they align with consumer and market demands.
When we saw that consumers weren’t connecting with the first iteration of our
new produce package, the designers turned to WestRock’s Insights Advisory team
to understand why. Our team conducted robust research to gauge consumer response
to a variety of produce packaging configurations and styles.
The research uncovered an important insight: One of the top purchase drivers for
produce is product visibility, which was obscured by the package’s design.
Consumers want to be able to clearly see their produce in the package to check
the freshness and ensure it’s not bruised or spoiled. Based on these insights,
we knew we needed to make some changes.
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The design team got to work on the next iteration of packaging — adding larger
die cuts on all four sides of the container and removing printing on the cover
film, ultimately increasing visibility of the produce inside. When we
paperboard produce container, it performed more competitively against the
typical plastic alternative.
WestRock’s product team was also able to leverage our insights to renew
conversations with both retailers and customers. By demonstrating how the new
design made the paper package as or more desirable than plastic, the research
reopened doors that had previously been shut.
The power of insights is undeniable — and can be used by all brands to drive
Strategic insights are integral to how WestRock approaches innovation — from the
initial design concept to the final product on the shelf. Like many major
brands, a deep understanding of current preferences and needs enables us to
continually adapt and respond to evolving consumer, customer and retailer
preferences — so we can stay at the forefront of the industry. Our insights team
uses a wide range of research tools to accomplish this, including custom online
surveys to measure consumer reaction to concepts and designs, foundational
surveys to gauge marketplace demands, visual attention software to predict what
viewers are likely to see at first glance, and usability testing to assess how
products function in real-life scenarios.
By utilizing a cross-section of tools, we’re able to uncover insights from both
the consumer and corporate perspective and put them to work in how we ideate,
develop and execute our packaging solutions. Research such as our Pulse
study helps build a picture of today’s consumer and what’s important to them.
Market research continues to broaden this picture by shining a spotlight on
important industry trends and regulations. For example, years ago when we saw
early signs of changing market regulations around eliminating
from the coating of food packaging, we acted quickly to develop a product to
meet that need. The result was the innovation of
Enshield — our
grease-resistant, paper-based food packaging that is free of fluorinated
Meanwhile, customer research helps us identify specific challenges that our
clients face in the market when transitioning to paper-based packaging. Customer
demand for recyclable paper packaging for wet environments was the inspiration
WetTech — a
new moisture-resistant, recyclable, paper-based alternative to waxed boxes.
As we all work together toward a more sustainable future, insights can be a
powerful way to drive your brand’s innovation. Here’s what we’ve learned through
our work that can help you deliver products that truly resonate in the market.
Put yourself in your consumers’ and customers’ shoes and immerse yourself in
their problems, so you can be inspired to solve them. This can be as simple as
finding ways to shake up your regular routine so you encounter different people
Participate in activities that are common for your target audience, such as
shopping at the same stores or using the same modes of transportation. Take
advantage of that time to observe those around you. And talk to people: friends,
family, even strangers. Ask them about relevant topics and products to help
broaden your own way of thinking. At its core, innovation is driven by a deep
understanding of people and what they want and need in their lives.
Even small-scale research can uncover insights that have the potential to make a
large impact. There are many ways to incorporate research without a big
investment. One easy but effective way is to send product samples to users so
they can put them to the test in everyday life. Their feedback can help you
refine and optimize your products to best suit the needs of those who will be
Communication with both customers and end users is another powerful research
tool. By fielding online focus groups and surveys, you can give yourself a
window into consumers’ values, needs and preferences.
Social media is another channel where you have consumers at your fingertips. By
keeping an eye on blogs, forums and social media accounts, you can be privy to
consumers’ unfiltered opinions and see how you might be able to solve some of
Since research strategies are by nature bespoke and tailored to each unique
case, they can resonate at every stage of product development. If you start by
considering what questions you have about your industry, products and designs,
you can nimbly adapt your strategy and tools to help find the answers.
The key is to think about insights as actionable discoveries. Our goal is always
to gather information that can spark thought and action. By letting this
knowledge serve as your North Star, you can develop sustainable products that
meet the evolving needs of the end user – which, ultimately, strengthens
Published Jan 16, 2024 8am EST / 5am PST / 1pm GMT / 2pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.