Using Our Senses – A Sensory Approach To Successful Brand and Product Development

Vivien Wilton-Middlemass, Head of Sensory Research at McCallum Layton will be presenting a paper on “Using Our Senses – A Sensory Approach To Successful Brand and Product Development” at this year’s Insight Show, which takes place between 29-30th June 2010 at (Grand Hall, Olympia, London). Vivien’s session will be held on both days at the event, and will uncover:

· How to develop a successful brand/product strategy
utilising a combined sensory and consumer research

· Explore the benefits of sensory research

· Using all our senses to create longer, stronger and more
profitable brands/products

If you would like to find out more information about this session or arrange a meeting with Vivien, please contact: John McCambley, Head of Brand Marketing & Communications on Tel: +44 (0)113 237 5590.

A Guide To Effective Employee Satisfaction Research

Most organisations put considerable effort into maintaining customer closeness, as this is rightly seen as a key component of running a successful business. As part of this process, it is important to remember that customer opinion can be heavily influenced by the attitude and morale of employees within your organisation, and that monitoring this is therefore crucial. Indeed, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development goes as far as to say, “Most research confirms that the quality of people management is a better predictor of performance than business strategy, research and development or quality management” (Change Agenda on Human Capital, 2003). This being the case, monitoring staff opinions and reacting effectively to their feedback can lead not only to improved retention and productivity, but can also be reflected in improvements in customer satisfaction, and so is a critical component in the management toolkit.

This is especially true in today’s tough economic climate, where there is far less flexibility in the offer of financial rewards – employee engagement is increasingly important in retaining talent. The recession has changed the playing field for many businesses, and they are having to re-evaluate what they can do to attract, develop and retain the best people at least cost, not simply for the sake of being a good employer but to secure the financial success of their organisation.

Measuring employee perceptions is not as straightforward as just taking more notice of discussions around the water-cooler, of course; here are some tips to help you design and get the most out of your employee consultation process.

Make sure the research format is accessible to all
Every staff member should be given the chance to air their views, in a systematic and structured way. This is important in terms of being seen to be inclusive, and also to enable results to be analysed, and recommendations targeted, in as fine detail as possible. In practical terms, this means undertaking a survey to which all staff, not just a sample, are invited to participate, and careful consideration must be given to the circumstances of all existing staff, making sure they can access the survey, and have sufficient time to take part.

If you are considering an online approach, for example, remember that any field-based employees may access their e-mails much less frequently than those based in the office. It may be worth thinking about offering different methods for different categories of employee, if necessary.

A high response rate gives the results more power
Just like an election with poor turnout, a low response rate can result in people questioning the legitimacy of the results. Therefore, plans must be put in place to maximise buy-in to the study. Before the survey is distributed, publicise the fact that it will be taking place. Explain the process, stressing that it provides an opportunity for staff to give their views and that the results will help shape internal policy. This message is best communicated from someone at a senior level, as having visible senior buy-in emphasises the importance of the consultation.

The questionnaire itself can also impact response rates, as can the organisation of the fieldwork period. Questions should cover all aspects of the working experience, but it’s best to avoid a long questionnaire, as this can make it harder for busy people to find time to participate. Open ended questions in particular should be used carefully: they can provide useful, detailed feedback, but they also take longer to answer than closed questions. Finally, set a reasonable deadline for completing the survey. Ideally, staff should be given a few weeks to respond, as this should still allow any who are on annual leave during part of the fieldwork period to participate. A small number of reminder communications during the fieldwork period can also help to increase response.

Remember the importance of anonymity
Another pre-requisite of a successful employee consultation is guaranteeing that anonymity is protected and emphasised throughout the process. If there is any concern that comments could be identified by senior management, the chance of obtaining honest, open feedback is lost. Commissioning an external agency to run the consultation project, and making this clear to all staff, can make all the difference to the success of the exercise – having the results held and processed by an independent party can provide reassurance that anonymity will be ensured.

It is also useful to explain how the results will be analysed. Whilst it is common practice to break the results down by department or level of seniority, the level of drill-down does depend on the number of employees in each subgroup. A good research process will prevent the possibility of someone’s answers being identifiable because they are the only senior manager within a particular division, for example. Finally, the methodology must also allow respondents to complete the survey in private; this can make a telephone interview inappropriate if respondents are contacted in the office.

Identify feasible improvements that will make a difference
Once the fieldwork is completed, that’s when the real work begins. Whilst each result may be interesting in its own way, it’s advisable to focus on finding out what’s important to employees themselves. This can be done by identifying the issues most strongly correlated with overall satisfaction. Most employees will be happy to accept that their job cannot be perfect in every way, but may still become disenchanted if they find fault in those areas that they value most in a job. By focussing on what is most important, it should be possible to identify the most pressing problems, and then prioritise changes that can potentially make the largest difference.

Communicate the findings and the actions you intend to take
Post-survey communication can prove as important as the analysis itself. Sharing the findings with all staff is strongly recommended; if employees think you are merely paying lip service to the process without actively looking to change anything, this is only marginally better than not consulting them at all. Tell them where the results were positive, where they could have been better, and importantly, what you plan to do in response to their feedback.

Finally, follow through on your promises
Once you’ve informed staff what actions will be taken, it is vitally important to then go ahead and do what you said you would. If you don’t follow through effectively, this can engender a cynical attitude which could even result in a drop in morale. In her work on psychological contracts in organisations (1995), Rousseau observed, “We know that when employees feel that their boss or firm has broken their expectations about work and career opportunities they often feel less committed to the organisation.” And less commitment to the organisation translates into less commitment to your customers.

Centre stage at “Esomar – Fragrance 09”

Vivien Wilton-Middlemass, Head of Sensory Research takes to the stage at Esomar’s annual Fragrance conference which is being held in Cannes, France between 22nd and 24th June.

Vivien’s session will show how through applying a multi staged approach of combined sensory and consumer research techniques we can identify and develop the best sensory stimuli suited to developing a successful branding strategy.
To find out more about our involvement, please contact John McCambley, Head of Brand Marketing & Communications on:

Tel: +44 (0)113 237 5590

McCallum Layton To Speak At Major Food & Drink Seminar In March

We are pleased to announce that on Wednesday 25th March, Vivien Wilton-Middlemass (Head of Sensory Research) will present a paper at the Food and Drink Innovation Network’s seminar (Better, Quicker And Cheaper NPD).

Session details:


• How to maintain market/brand share in uncertain times using
sensory data and analysis.
• How sensory can assist in cost reduction and ingredient
• Using taste to drive innovation.
• Get better sales by targeting products for specific market
• Top tips to ensure consumer acceptance and maintain brand

If you would like to find out more about our involvement, please contact John McCambley, Head of Brand Marketing & Communications at or tel: +44 (0)113 237 5590

To find out more about FDIN, visit

The Changing Consumer…

Much evidence suggests that the next 12-18months ahead will see record levels of unemployment, more interest rate cuts and an economy that is heading further in the wrong direction, but now is the time, more than ever before to truly get under the skin of your consumer in such a volatile market.

Research is simply not (as some see) a cost to the business, but a critical strategic activity that is needed to help any brand align for the tough times that lie ahead. Those companies who invest in truly understanding the changing buying habits of their customer/consumers over the short-medium term will gain the strategic advantage in the long term and steal a march on the competition when the dust settles.

Make Sure Your New Product Is Not A Lemon, And If It Is, Is It Bitter Or Sour?

Howard Frost and Vivien Wilton-Middlemass explain the role of sensory testing in new product development across a range of products.

New product development usually treads a familiar and well worn path. Once the need for a new product has been identified there follow the concept development stage, concept testing, fine tuning, prototype production and so on. At the same time decisions are being made regarding various marketing issues, for example, the creation of an advertising platform, promotional launch details and maybe a review of the distribution channels for the new product. However, this process is detailed in numerous marketing tracts so it is not our intention here to bore the reader with that which can be readily found elsewhere. We want to sharpen your senses or rather show you how sharper senses can ensure you have got the best product and that you are ready for launch.
Let’s assume that you’ve identified the need for a new product, ascertained there is demand, done the concept development and testing, made the prototype and have all your marketing ducks lined up. But, and this is a big but, how do you know you have got the best product, the product that, out of all the ideas you have looked at and out of all the prototypes you’ve produced, has the best chance of success?
Well, if you accept the assumption that there are reasons behind everything, then there have to be reasons why people will select your new product over the competition. To give your new product the best chance of success you need to accurately identify those reasons. Let’s take an example, some people buy dark chocolate and some milk. Those who prefer dark chocolate often describe it as being more bitter than milk chocolate and cite this as one of the main reasons as to why they choose the former over the latter; but what does bitter mean?
Assume that you are about to launch your new dark chocolate bar, but, is it too bitter, or not bitter enough? Taste tests with the public are all very well but one person’s ‘very bitter’ is another person’s ‘a little bitter’. How does your new product score on the other criteria that feed into people’s decision trees when buying chocolate? Oh, you think, if only I had a definitive metric of bitterness and a measure of where my competitors’ products and my new product scored on the ‘bitterness’ scale, and how well my target market’s taste aligned with each of these, then I would be in a position to launch the optimum product. Guess what – you can! And not just for chocolate but also for mobile ‘phones, cosmetics, cleaning products, cars and a whole heap of other products. In short you can enlist the help of sensory testing techniques in any situation where your senses play a part in product selection – you tell me where they don’t.
Sensory testing and new product development go hand in hand; it can be used at various touch points throughout your development process to ensure that your new product matches what the market wants. For those unfamiliar with the basic technique it relies on the recruitment and training of a panel of experts who, through the use of consistent test stimuli, develop an appropriate and common language for a specific product or group of products. Panels can be trained for taste, for example for different kinds of food and drink ranging from yellow fats to beer, or touch, an example here being cosmetics where the difference between a product being smooth or greasy can make all the difference, through to sight – what is the optimum hue for a tomato? Think of all the ways that your product interacts with your customers’ senses and at each of these points there is a potential role for sensory testing.
Sensory testing dovetails perfectly with research methodologies that enable the understanding of the wider audience that report their motivational drivers to buy a particular product and together these techniques will provide any person, working in NPD, with a solid base on which to make decisions. Take, for example, a car manufacturer that learns that a customer is likely to pay more for a car (or their kitchen cabinets) whose doors shut with a satisfying, opulent sounding ‘thunk.’ Even though this is only one of a myriad of factors in the choosing of a car, the manufacturer would be somewhat remiss if they dismissed this aspect when designing their new models.
So where do the lemons come into it? Like me you might be surprised to know that there are forty seven varieties of lemon. Interestingly, lemon growers classify them as acid or sweet but how many people have you ever heard asking for a sweet lemon?

Attitudes Towards The Recession

In October/November 2008, we carried out an in-depth piece of research which looked at how the current economic downturn is affecting purchasing behaviours and future buying intentions between consumers from differing generations (with a sample split between 18-29 year olds and 30+ year olds).

25% of 18-29 year olds believe their disposable income will increase in 2009…
44% of the combined sample will continue with their changes to spending habits (even after the current climate has improved)…
67% of 30+ year olds believe there will be an increase in crime as a result of the current climate…

To find out more about our results, findings and recommendations, please drop me an email at

Click on the link “Attitudes Towards The Recession” to watch our short video clip.


Leeds based research & marketing insight consultancy McCallum Layton has recently expanded its range of services to include sensory testing. Headed by Vivien Wilton-Middlemass, who has over 20 years experience in sensory testing, the agency has developed its own bespoke sensory testing unit and panel in Leeds which offers cost-effective testing across the food and drink, FMCG and cosmetic industries.


Vivien was awarded Business Woman of the Year and made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts for her innovation and contribution to the food and drink industry in 1987 and 1989 respectively.


This year has already seen the agency strengthen its insight and marketing teams and also expand its CATI unit as a result of new, long-term business wins throughout 2007-08.


Founding Partner Duncan McCallum said, “We have already had a lot of interest in our new Sensory Testing Unit which was developed as part of an ongoing plan to provide clients with an even greater range of services.”