Marketing research has positioned itself to gather, record and analyze data concerning issues related to the marketing of products and services. Over the years these processes have evolved, and the current marketing research field is quite sophisticated in its ability to collect and analyze data. However, there are some under utilized tools available in this arena, which are sometimes not used because of the lack of exposure these tools have to the traditional marketing research department. Those tools revolve around the quantifying and analyzing of the sensory data that is utilized by the consumer when they assess a product or service. Although consumers use all five of their senses when judging a product, it is almost impossible for the consumer to verbalize, let alone quantify, their sensory responses to a product. Also, consumers commonly use different terms to describe the same sensory experience, and therefore the data can be extremely noisy and misleading.

For example, currently it is a common practice to develop products for the market by attempting to match an existing product on the market that is perceived as a success. Sometime that success comes from being the first product of its kind on the market and may or may not be an optimized product. Therefore, attempting to develop a product based on the other existing products in the category may lead to a less than optimum product or make a “Me Too” product. This is where the tools and training of sensory science can help.

Sensory science is the process of eliciting and measuring the human response to a product as it relates to the five senses. By the use of trained Sensory Descriptive Panelists and combining their information with the consumer’s affective responses to sensory attributes, the researcher is able to determine key drivers of liking and develop an optimized product in a fraction of the time it would take to develop a product using traditional R&D product matching methods.

These techniques can also be used for product category appraisals. This can determine if there are any holes in the category space opening up opportunities for a new product which meets consumer needs but does not currently exist in the product category.

A by-product of this research can also be the determination of consumer segmentation within a product category. Without the knowledge of consumer segmentation, a simple average of the data can lead to a product that falls between the segmented groups and fails to satisfy any one segment. In this case, depending on the strength of the segments, it may be necessary to have more than one formulation to meet all the needs of the entire consumer population.

Join us me as I discuss the use of sensory evaluation as a research tool at MRA’s First Outlook Conference this November in Orlando.

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