09. October 2020
How Immersive Technology is driving Consumer Testing - an Update

Consumer researchers are using Immersive Technology to introduce real life into the laboratory and thereby more narrowly address the psychological motives of consumers. This enhances the informative value of product tests and allows manufacturers to adapt their products more closely to consumers.

A test method that was considered too visionary a few years ago is now finding its way into the everyday life of sensory and consumer research: Testing with Immersive Technology. Test subjects are placed into situations that match the setting in which the test product is used by means of images, videos, room projections or VR glasses.The aim is to integrate the context in which the product is used more strongly into the test situation. This makes it easier to distinguish the different psychological motives of the consumers.

isi has been working on these methods since 2016. isi has conducted research on the topic and presented the results at conferences and published them in professional journals. In this blog post we had already presented the method and its possible applications. At this time, we would like to highlight new developments in Immersive Technology and point out for which products and questions Immersive Technology is a suitable fit

Are you interested in Immersive Technology? We are happy to answer your questions. Please contact us via our contact form or get in touch with our isi expert Joachim Haag (+49 551 49974 220, joachim.haag@isi-goettingen.de).

 

A juicy difference - inner motives establish preferences

It's seven o'clock in the morning, time is pressing and in your thoughts, you are already in the office. Time for a quick vitamin shot to get ready for the start of work. There are two bottles of orange juice in the refrigerator. One of the juices is thin and without pulp, the other is thick with lots of pulp. Which variant do you prefer? Probably the thinner one. because the juice with pulp tends to satisfy the desire for prolonged enjoyment, i.e. the indulgence motive. The gourmet juice is saved for the Sunday brunch with family or friends. The thin-bodied juice however works like a fast Energy Shot - exactly the correct choice for the performance motive in the morning.

This example illustrates that context influences the perceived benefit. As such, in an optimal sensory product test, the context should be taken into account.

Produkttests mit Unterstützung von Immersive Technologies kombinieren hohe interne und externe Validität der Testergebnisse

Test person with VR glasses. Left hand side a standardized test lab with high internal validity. Right hand side a home use test with high external validity.
Product tests supported by immersive technologies combine internal and external validity.

This insight is not new; however, it poses a dilemma for sensory research and product manufacturers. On the one hand, product tests should be as standardized as possible, i.e. best to conduct them in the laboratory. On the other hand, the context should be taken into account; a beer tasting, for example, should take place in a bar, a shampoo test in the shower. Both variants have their followers.

Battle between competing Schools of Thought

Employees from the research and development departments mainly rely on standardized laboratory tests. After all, product differences discovered by the consumer should be solely attributable to the product. Temperature, humidity, brightness, and sound level are controlled in the laboratory. If, for example, orange juice A with little fruit flesh tastes much better to the consumer than orange juice B with a lot of fruit flesh, the producer knows how to orientate his product.

In contrast, marketing staff are traditionally in favor of more realistic situations. Instead of the results from the laboratory, they tend to trust studies that take place at home with the test persons (e.g. Home Use Test) or in other environments where the product is commonly used.

Until now, the two schools of thought have been relatively irreconcilable. But with the help of Immersive Technology, both approaches merge, and the wishes of marketers and product developers are reconciled.

A vase for the imagination

An immersive situation places the test person in the laboratory into a different context. How deep the immersion goes depends on the chosen method. Even a bit of room decoration can provide additional context, such as a tablecloth, a vase, soft music. Frequently, sensory researchers use videos that project a certain ambience, such as a bar, on a screen that covers the entire room. Augmented and virtual reality are also used, which allows the viewer to dive into other worlds by using these special devices.

Eiscreme-Test in simulierter Wohnzimmeratmosphäre (Dekoration und Projektionen).

Living room interior with stools, sofas and couch table. In the background a projection of further living room interiors.
Eiscreme-Test in simulierter Wohnzimmeratmosphäre (Dekoration und Projektionen)

Eiscreme-Test in simulierter Wohnzimmeratmosphäre (Dekoration und Projektionen)

Livingroom interior with sofa and couch table. In front of it a projection of further living room interior-
Eiscreme-Test in simulierter Wohnzimmeratmosphäre (Dekoration und Projektionen)

But is it worth the effort? Can immersion in the laboratory mimic the real situation of the consumer so much so that the consumer’s decision is reflected in the results? Indeed, studies show that Immersive Technologies do in fact fulfill this requirement.

Together with researchers from the European Sensory Network, isi has investigated how beer samples in a bar, in the laboratory and in the lab differ with the use of Immersive Technology. The study proves that the situation in the bar and Immersive Technology in the laboratory provide comparable results. In fact, the presentation on a screen scored just as well as the more elaborate version with virtual reality and 3D glasses. In this video we show original recordings from the experiment, which took place in a pub in Rome, among other places.

Tracking dogs in virtual space

Does this mean that all sensory and consumer tests should be conducted under immersive conditions? No. How well Immersive Technology works depends on the questions asked, the product and other factors. Immersion makes sense, for example, if the product is context sensitive.

The simulated context must also provide similarities to the original context. The sensory researchers were sometimes surprised at how little simulation is necessary to provide sufficient context. The test persons' imagination complements and completes the missing parts. However, the associations must be awakened by the appropriate components. What turns a table into a breakfast table? What is the decisive factor in a bar atmosphere? Is it the murmuring sounds of visitors, a dimly lit room, the bar music, the smell? These questions must be answered reliably in advance in order to develop the appropriate immersion. isi has amassed extensive experience and has developed an eye for which sensory impressions influence mood the most.

Together with the University of Copenhagen, isi investigated to what extent the image of a beach while just sitting in a deck chair alone puts test persons in a vacation mood and alters their desire for beer. In this video isi employee Alexandra Kraus summarizes the results.

Gamification keeps consumers’ interest fresh

Some products are only partially suitable for immersive testing. For example, VR glasses make it difficult to taste a ready-made meal. A real dining plate can also be integrated into virtual reality, but this increases the effort and the immersion effect is lessened. By the way, questionnaires can also be integrated into the VR situation. The test persons do not have to take off their glasses to answer questions. They just have to tick the virtual questionnaire by using the hand controller. Navigation is controlled by line of sight.

Sniff Test für Toilettenspülsteine in simulierter Badatmosphäre.

test person with VR glasses, smelling on a sample of toilet rim blocks. PC in front of her. A picture of a bathroom above the VR glasses.
Sniff Test für Toilettenspülsteine in simulierter Badatmosphäre.

Anyone observing test persons in an immersive test, for example with VR glasses, will quickly see another advantage of Immersive Technology. Test persons are completely focused on the subject. In comparison, sometimes in classic laboratory tests the desire to participate dissipates after the umpteenth test. Consumers feel much more involved in immersive tests. isi studies show that the motivation of the test subjects increases with Immersive Technology. This helps to keep consumer engagement high in the long term and to attract new test subjects.

The advantages of immersive testing can be summarized as follows:

  1.  Simultaneously high internal and high external validation of results
  2.  Cost effective method for simulating real life setups in the laboratory
  3.  High consumer motivation
  4.  Meets the needs of product developers and marketers
  5.  Allows for changes in context and is adaptable to new questions without much effort.

3D view into the future

In the coming years, immersive technologies are likely to become increasingly important in sensory and consumer research. Moreover, with each subsequent improvement or technological innovation the possibilities for using these technologies increase. Whether it is touch-sensitive VR suits, activation of taste stimuli via remote control or VR-enabled contact lenses, isi stays ahead of the curve on developments and undertakes the necessary scientific studies in order to establish the prerequisites for launching new methods in consumer research.

This is being done within the SensoryXR research network, a cooperation between isi, the University of Applied Sciences Nordhausen and the company Computerwerk. Despite the several years of experience with Immersive and Virtual Reality, the look into VR glasses still triggers a wow effect among the isi employees. To get an impression of the method, everyone should put on VR glasses and let themselves be transported into another world. The holodeck that science fiction films have already envisioned is not here yet, but the researchers are working hard at turning it into a reality.

 

Are you interested in Immersive Technology? We are happy to answer your questions. Please contact us via our contact form or get in touch with our isi expert Joachim Haag (+49 551 49974 220, joachim.haag@isi-goettingen.de).

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