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Why Sensory Research is Critical to Product Testing

Product development is a key strategy for businesses wanting to remain competitive within an industry. As a series of distinct steps that ultimately involves product testing, product development aims to create or reimagine products and services to meet market demand. It’s not always an intuitive process; constantly changing market variables make knowing what consumers want or need at any given time a daunting endeavor. To gain insight into the product development process, many companies turn to sensory research during product testing. A market research methodology that evaluates potential goods according to the five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing), sensory research was traditionally used to test food and beverage products but has expanded in recent years to help evaluate any product capable of stimulating sensory perception. Reviewing the ways a product is experienced by different segments of people using any of the five senses can give businesses the insight they need to build better, more profitable goods. In this way, sensory research has become a critical part of product development and testing. Here’s what you need to know:

Consumers are frequently unpredictable. Often unaware of their own thought processes and unconscious biases, they can have a hard time articulating their explicit needs and an even harder time voicing their opinions. Many times they are simply unable to pinpoint why they feel or act the way they do. Thus, rather than rely on research measures that require consumers to be introspective and completely self-aware, companies can use sensory research to witness and explore the sensory reactions consumers have toward a specific offering themselves. Examining how consumers experience a product using any or all of their five senses can reveal a lot about their subconscious likes and dislikes; indeed, asking consumers to describe a product’s appearance, smell, taste, feel or sound allows companies to establish the elements of an offering that produce the strongest response. With that information, companies can then tweak their products before they hit the market, maximizing those elements that work and remedying the ones that don’t.

Similarly, sensory research can be used to garner insight for improved product marketing. The more a company can identify the elements that “speak” to consumers, the better it is able to specifically underscore those elements and use them for a marketing advantage. For example, if a company uses sensory research to discover consumers like nacho-flavored chips and appreciate not having orange dust coating their fingers after eating them, it can use that knowledge to create marketing materials that reference the great flavor and minimal mess of their nacho chips!

Finally, all of us have latent sensory awareness that either pulls us toward or repels us from certain items. They play a large part in the way we develop loyalty to a brand; we might not recognize why we like a product or support a brand, we just know that they make us “feel good.” Sensory research can be used to help companies identify the innate properties of a product (its appearance, smell, flavor, texture, and/or sound) that more frequently draw consumers toward it so that they can work to highlight those points, attract consumers and, thereby, maintain a positive brand awareness that continues to draw people in.

Sensory research is a critical part of product development, serving as a way to test both new and existing products so that their value can be maximized in any given market. To learn more about sensory research and other market research methodologies that can garner meaningful — actionable — insight for better business decisions, please contact our team of experts at Research America.

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