How a Beauty Expert Used Agile Research to Prioritize and Refine New Packaging for Cosmetics

Dec 4, 2019

Just like your favorite lipstick eventually changes over time (lest you get stuck in a matte burgundy rut), so does the beauty industry as a whole. Like other retail verticals, the beauty industry is increasingly sensitive to shifts in consumer expectations, including how well a product’s packaging may (or may not be) hitting its mark.

Consider how one major beauty brand took a deep dive into packaging during an effort to expand its cosmetics offerings. The brand had come up with several different packaging options and the consumer insights team wanted to evaluate each of them to understand:

  • How the options compared to each other
  • Ways the packaging could be optimized
  • The impressions consumers were getting from each of the packaging options
  • The strengths and weaknesses of each packaging option

As with all product innovation, involving the customer at key points is critical to making sure the end result succeeds in the market. But the team also understood that part of staying innovative is to know when to use certain research methodologies in the product development process.

In other words, the team knew that the methodologies they may have leaned on in the past wouldn’t necessarily be the best or only answer when it came to this particular packaging challenge.

The challenge in detail

Specifically, the brand’s consumer insights team wanted to avoid one of the most common research pitfalls in the beauty industry: relying solely on quantitative research. Instead of only gathering data that gave numerical rankings or answered the basics of who, what, when, and how, the team wanted to go deeper by uncovering more nuanced consumer insights that revealed impressions, feelings, and emotions.

In order to move forward with full confidence, the team decided to leave no eyelash uncurled by conducting both quantitative and qualitative research to understand the whys behind the data.

By using both approaches, they hoped to answer these key questions:

  • How do the package line-ups stack up against each other?
  • How can they be optimized for future success?

The research and solution

The team enlisted GutCheck to help with their research process. And because the team had a tight timeline, GutCheck ran the quantitative and qualitative phases simultaneously to deliver more quickly on the key questions.

Together, the consumer insights team and GutCheck came up with the following research objectives for both methodologies:


  • Identify which package is strongest based on key metrics like Purchase Intent, Appeal, Color Likeability, Uniqueness, Fit with Brand, and more
  • Evaluate different combinations of package attributes
  • Have consumers rank the top three options they would be most likely to purchase


  • Evaluate each package line-up focusing on Overall Impressions, Premium-ness, and Fit with Brand
  • Uncover any opportunities for refinement, specifically in terms of points of confusion, areas of disbelief, or any red flags
  • Identify which packaging resonates with the target audience in terms of finding their shade

The quantitative study of 1,000 customers was conducted in just five days from recruit to report, while the qualitative study of two groups of 40 targeted customers took seven days from recruit to report, allowing the brand to move fast.

In addition to the agile component of the research, the brand’s Global Innovation Insights Manager, Gia Calhoun, understood clearly that combining qualitative research with a more typical quantitative study was the solution they were after.

Calhoun explained: “When working within beauty, everything about the product is linked to an emotion, from the product itself to packaging and especially advertising. The only real way to capture a deeply personal insight, which will help you evoke that emotion in consumers, is through qualitative research. Never underestimate the power of qualitative research.”

The results

The feedback the team gained from the multi-phase research indicated the essential features consumers were looking for when choosing a cosmetic product that was right for them based on their individual needs.

Here were some of the key findings:

  • Certain product shapes were perceived to be of higher quality, and a traditional shape was preferred for storage purposes
  • In addition to a few design and functional improvements, respondents wanted to see more of the actual product to know if it would be the right fit for them
  • The shapes and features of the product lids had a significant impact on whether or not the product was seen as a strong fit with the brand
  • Consumers associated certain colors with the brand and shared ideas on where those colors should appear most prominently
  • To improve perceptions of quality, the logo and branding needed to be visible in a precise location on the packaging

For the brand’s consumer insights team, the feedback reinforced that conducting quantitative and qualitative research together was the right move. Quantitatively, a concept may have performed well, but only qualitative feedback could tell the team why and help them uncover some of those key pieces of information that could drastically impact the research and the product launch.

In this case, the quantitative results revealed a unique and aesthetically appealing package—which was a win. However, the qualitative feedback uncovered one major factor that needed to be addressed: the selected packaging was not functional because it didn’t deliver on the number-one need in the category, which was to help consumers find their shade.

Calhoun summarized that experience like this: “If we had moved forward with this research with only the quant understanding, we would’ve had a huge miss and potentially a failed product launch.”

Beyond the right packaging

As the beauty industry continues to evolve, trends in packaging could take on a new significance. Especially in this day and age of social media where interest is driven by images, packaging that looks good on an Instagram post could make all the difference in sales.

But it’s these exact market shifts that brands have to navigate to grow their brand value accordingly. Using all the tools at your disposal — including quantitative and qualitative customer research — can give you a more complete and nuanced picture of your customer that then translates into much more successful product innovation.

Want to see more research on the beauty industry? Check out this infographic to see how brands like Revlon can personalize their products and messaging to capitalize on potential customers.

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© 2019 GutCheck is a registered trademark of Brainyak, Inc. All rights reserved.