How Unilever could become a Service provider

Recently we did a small scale study on the consumers perception of environmental friendly product packing in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods market.
In plain English this comes down to the question “are people aware of the environmental impact of products and their packaging they are buying in a supermarket (and does this influence their buying-behavior)“?

The question following from that, can producing companies like Unilever and Procter&Gamble use this knowledge to create better products for their customers and thus obtain a competitive advantage.

A shoppingcart

For the study we visited 5 local supermarkets in Utrecht and interviewed close to 50 people just after they left the store. When conducting interviews there’s usually a difference between the answers people give and how they actually act in their daily live. We call this the “saying-doing”-gap.
So for the study we let their shopping bag (and the content in it) act as an example of their actual actions.
We asked people a few short questions like “Pick a product from your bag that tells a story about yourself” and “Pick a product that of which you feel is environmentally friendly“. Instead of focusing on writing down the exact answer we took photo’s of the person with his/her products as the answer. As you can imagine the questions triggered short conversations in which you get very much information from the person you’re talking with. The interviews resulted in a lot of stories. Some very shallow and superficial, some very deep and personal. It wasn’t about hard fact-finding, it was about developing new insights. Finding the right question to ask, not to the answer to a specific question.

I can truly say that we’ve learned a lot about attitude towards the environment and the role it plays in their live of the people who cooperated in the study. But how can this knowledge be translate into something of value for the consumers and companies like Unilever and P&G? It comes down to extracting insights and designing concepts around them.

The most interesting (and we think valuable) insight we got through this study was that the peak-moment in the “environmental”-experience of packaging occurs when people have to get rid of the packaging. This actually wasn’t something a large percentage of the people mentioned literally, only a few pointed directly to this. But putting the stories in a broader context made us come to the insight that the answer to creating value may very well lie in helping people manage their trash instead of developing a new logo.

Waste experience

The study is done for now but of course it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop here. The next step would be to verify this insight, for instance by conducting a “garbage”-research to get a better understanding of how people manage their trash at home.

The thing I love about my job is that a remark from one single person can spark that new idea and give the right direction to investigate further. We’re constantly exploring and discovering people, their live and the world around us. And thats a lot of fun!

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Marc is co-founder of 31Volts and helps major private and public organizations to grow by designing services that cultivate a sustainable relationship with customers.

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