The Sensory Journey through a product experience
P de Wit-Peer
Unilever R & D Vlaardigen
Qualitative research generally provides an understanding about the motivations and feelings of consumers, i.e. insights on an abstract level, gathered within research settings. However, from a product developer point of view, one of the challenges that qualitative research faces is to deliver realistic as well as actionable results which easily can be translated into concrete technical targets. The objective of this poster is to explain the process of an interview technique called ‘Sensory Journey’, which can be applied in qualitative consumer research methods like individual interviews, preferably within a ‘real life’ research setting. Sensory Journey focuses on getting answers which are as specific as possible in order to provide specifications for further product development.
Effectively, Sensory Journey is a smart combination of interview techniques. It is based on established principles of qualitative consumer research, but also includes a couple of specific recommendations. It requires different questioning techniques and a more thorough and deeper analysis. A Sensory Journey focuses on a systematic exploration of products by guiding the consumer through the total sensory and cooking experience of the actual product preparation and consumption.
Individual interviews are preferably conducted in a fully equipped consumer kitchen in a central location, or in consumers’ apartments. Creative consumers are preferred for a Sensory Journey, as these consumers may have decreased ‘latent inhibition’ and therefore be more likely to screen ‘relevant’ sensory stimuli from conscious awareness. A range of different, preferably systematically varied, stimulus products is essential to stretch people’s mind and to generate product attributes beyond the salient ones. Furthermore, in dynamic processes, such as tasting and cooking where all senses play a role, Sensory Journey copes with the fact that the consumer tends to mention the most obvious attributes only and to describe them in abstract terms like ‘creamy’. With careful questioning techniques, consumers are primarily probed for descriptions (e.g. ‘how can you describe…, what can you tell me about the appearance?’) and associations (e.g., ‘what does the colour look like?’), not for evaluations/likes/dislikes (e.g., ‘how do you feel about the peachy taste, what is good in the berry colour?’).
Sensory Journey provides credible as well as actionable results which product development easily can translate into concrete technical targets, e.g. ‘it looks milky, a bit smooth – it’s silky like Baileys and it will leave a coating on my glass’. Furthermore the generation of consumer language helps setting up a quantitative study that uses more realistic vocabulary and contexts.
The Sensory Journey approach delivers concrete starting points for product development while transferability to ‘real life’ situations may be considered. The Sensory Journey scenario might offer learnings relevant to other research areas, e.g., studying eating disorders.