Exclusive Interview: Gordy Pleyers on shaping luxury consumer perception through design

Alissa Demorest

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Exclusive Interview: Gordy Pleyers on shaping luxury consumer perception through design

Gordy Pleyers, Professor of Neuromarketing at the University of Louvain in Belgium and scientific expert in the area of consumer influence, coordinates Mind Insights, a scientific organization that conducts exclusive studies to better understand and to optimize the multiple elements that influence luxury consumers' reactions to packaging. These can range from font, color, texture, visual complexity, shape and printing technique, to name a few. In our exclusive interview, the first in a series to appear on Luxe Packaging Insight, Pleyers delves into the work of Mind Insights and how it can assist luxury brands to better resonate with their consumers through their packaging.

Can you give us an overview of how Mind Insights works?

Our organization gathers the work of a significant number of professors and researchers; we carry out cutting-edge scientific studies and centralize the knowledge on what shapes the perception of luxury in the minds of consumers.
Every year we conduct numerous new studies, either for Mind Insights’ R&D purposes or on behalf of industrial partners or brands.

Our laboratory studies typically consist of comparing consumer reactions to different alternatives for the same concept, such as a packaging, an advertisement, or a retail store. In order to reliably examine the causal impacts of each alternative, we remove the influence of other elements that could otherwise distort the reactions and thus invalidate the study. These unwanted elements relate to the products, but also to the study environment (surrounding colors or distractors, for example), and to the participants’ state of mind. In this well-controlled setting, we measure consumers’ reactions on different levels using state-of-the-art methods drawn from cognitive neuroscience. This overcomes the widely documented limitations and distortions that inevitably occur with ‘traditional’ approaches like surveys or focus groups. The methods we use accurately capture all types of reactions, including those that are non-conscious. Furthermore, since these methods avoid the use of explicit questions, we can collect genuine reactions that consumers cannot deliberately adjust.

What are the most impactful design elements that influence consumer choice?

Any design component can have a significant impact and is therefore worth studying. We've mainly worked on color, shape, fonts, image properties, texture, materials, printing techniques and various decorative elements. Considering all these elements, our studies show how even subtle differences can result in significantly different consumer perceptions, which is fascinating! Minute variations can refer to a color’s saturation level, as it has been shown that, having highly saturated colors for certain hues should be avoided as it is incongruent with a sense of luxury in consumers’ minds. Conversely, certain combinations of colors are particularly effective in automatically conveying the ‘luxury’ cognition. The same holds true for the many other design elements.

Given the vast nature of our studies, I would be hard-pressed to give an overview. But to cite a few major ongoing projects, we focus on the impact of visual complexity on premium perceptions; of shape congruence on affective reactions and feelings of trust, and of specific materials as they relate to perceptions of sustainability.

We are also carrying out studies relating to inter-sensoriality and cross-modality — in other words how specific design elements can modulate the subjective sensory perceptions such as smell or taste properties. Such studies and findings obviously have valuable implications for the industry.

On what different levels can design influence consumer perception of a product?

Our studies show impacts at various levels. First of all, design elements obviously play an important role in capturing attention. Secondly, they can arouse a positive affective reaction, and a range of other emotions.

On a more cognitive level, design elements can effectively activate a set of thoughts and values, relating, for example, to quality, efficiency, authenticity, pleasure, modernity, femininity or masculinity, and of course premium and luxury. These criteria obviously depend on the desired positioning. For instance, today attention is increasingly being paid to activating perceptions relating to sustainability.

In addition, as previously mentioned, design elements can influence sensory perceptions: the aromas, flavors or olfactory notes in a given spirit, wine, fragrance, cosmetic or food product. Our studies show that this sensory influence can operate on two levels: on the one hand, the thoughts activated at the sight of the product, thus the inference made about the sensations provoked when consumers are being exposed to the product in store or through ads or websites; on the other hand, the sensations consumers are experiencing at the moment of consumption. And of course, they also influence the behavioral dimension, especially regarding the purchase.

Your studies show the importance of defining packaging design codes also because the pack is the key medium of communication between brands and consumers.

Indeed, the pack is often the sole element present at the time of purchase. With regard to the scientific insights into its impacts on consumer reactions, the pack is considered a key determinant of marketing and sales success. The right packaging can have great impact at the right time, which is not the case for costly advertising campaigns. All of this emphasizes the crucial importance of studying and exploiting even the most subtle design components.

While the research and knowledge generated by Mind Insights are a valuable resource for the industry, they are also driven by a fundamental scientific interest given that they offer an opportunity to analyze and better understand the underlying mechanisms behind the fascinating phenomena of consumer perception.

Look out for the next interview in our exclusive series with Gordy Pleyers as he gives us a deep dive into specific design elements on consumer perception in luxury.

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