Impulse Catalyst

By definition an impulse purchase is a sudden inclination to act without deliberation; an action triggered by an external stimulus that whispers "just do it!" It's an everyday phenomenon that confounds even the best marketers -- how can managers influence the purchase of a brand whose window-of-buying-opportunity only opens for a millisecond?

It's done by designing the product, from the get-go, to reflect impulse-purchase realities. Managers of products whose constituency arrives at the point-of-purchase with no intention of buying any brand -- theirs or a competitors -- can optimize their branding efforts by concentrating NPD efforts on the one factor that can command buyer attention and whisper "just do it" in the only place that counts: the retail shelf.

And what is this silver-tongued oracle hidden among the retail stacks? It's nothing more than the lowly container that holds the NPD manager's precious product technology. It's the highly underrated package -- a unity that incorporates brand name, descriptors, architecture and graphics -- that serves as the medium communicating the usage opportunity to shoppers that moments before had not the slightest intention of acquiring it. To paraphrase McLuhan, when it comes to impulse purchase the media -- in this case the package -- is the message.

In impulse purchase situations an arbitrary whim -- triggered by exposure to the product category -- precipitates a purchase decision. In these situations the medium is the message and the package is the product. R&D's responsibility is to literally fill the package preferred by users with a product technology that satisfies expectations created solely by brand name... "billboard" descriptor...structural

Okay. Identifying the product technology the prospective user ascribes to the contents of the preferred package and leaving it up to R&D to fill the box with the appropriate product is an unorthodox way to go about generating a new product. But for brands driven by impulse purchase -- and brands that lack the ability to ante up $21,000,000 of advertising and promotion required to register meaningful levels of consumer awareness -- the primary consumer communication is the package. The package is the product.

The goal is to design a package to serve as the catalyst that precipitates an impulse purchase.

To trigger an impulse, there must first be a stimulus to provoke the cause-and-effect phenomenon. To identify the most provocative stimulus there must be a wide variety of stimuli -- or in this case, packaging options. To develop these package-as-concept options the concept team works with long term associates MRK Design and naming specialists to capture and communicate a mind diversified array of packaging options that represent potential strategic variables with the power to drive an impulse purchase.

The tool presents prospective consumers a smorgasbord of package options -- sufficiently executed to communicate the strategic components of the selling proposition -- that might serve as a catalyst in precipitating an unpremeditated purchase at retail. Using a multivariate sorting technique, prospective users are asked to choose the configurations they will be most likely to purchase. Then, and only then, comes the qualitative interrogation intended to decipher the product technology the user attributes to the contents of the preferred package. Two-On-One interviews probe concept communication to determine message comprehension at all four levels: registration of plain text message...comprehension of strategic content... internalization of personally relevant benefits/utility...rationalization of purchase decision (economic or coherence with personal value system). At this point, however, no attempt to evaluate the package's impact on purchase intent is made; the effort would be both premature and statistically unreliable.

After that, it's up to R&D to fill the package with the contents the consumer attributed to the package. And marketing / package design managers to capture the brand imagery.

The tool was initially used to develop highly successful new sub-categories of Kleenex: Designer Line & Mansize Tissues. RJR Tobacco used modified versions of the process to identify premium opportunities in an increasingly price oriented category.

The tool had the potential to identify package/retail/impulse driven new product home-runs that include Arizona Teas. Concentrated All. Breyer's Vienetta Ice Cream. DAP's Patchstick. Playtex's DuraMitt. Goodyear Aquatred. Packard Bell's Corner Computer. The commonality? Retail presence of the product -- and the physical configuration -- either communicated product functionality and user benefit without advertising/promotion support. Or could have.

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