To visit the Innovation Labs at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) new U.S. headquarters in Warren, N.J., is to discover exactly how a product is positioned for optimal success in the marketplace, from initial conception, to the science and research behind it, to the development and testing phases, to the in-store merchandising strategy. I recently had the opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse of the inner workings of the HQ's trio of integrated Innovation Labs, an experience which was both enlightening and informative.
“The Innovation Labs were built to better understand and underscore the importance of consumer and retailer needs so that we can provide them with the products they want,” said Colin Mackenzie, the company’s region head of the Americas. “Consumer insights are the basis of our work within GSK Consumer Health …to provide a comprehensive resource to our retail partners and, ultimately, consumers.”
The three facilities – Research & Development (R&D), Consumer Sensory Lab (CSL) and Shopper Science Lab (SSL) – work together seamlessly to provide a robust analysis of consumer and expert insights in real time.
The R&D lab, which offers an end-to-end product development process, actually begins with an innovation room, where initial ideas for products, like Theraflu warming caplets for cold and flu symptoms, are subjected to brainstorming sessions focusing on consumer needs. Once the idea is fully formed, it moves to the lab proper, a flexible space able to adapt to new concepts quickly and easily.
The lab features equipment that performs quality control testing and checks the efficacy and safety of prototype products and their packaging in the process of bringing concepts to life. Particularly impressive are 3D printers capable of producing hard or soft products.
The next stop after R&D is the CSL, which enables GSK to engage directly with consumers. This is the area where members of consumer panels get to try out prototype products under conditions that simulate real experiences such as taking a shower or brushing one’s teeth, while being observed through one-way mirrors.
The samples given to consumers here contain no active pharmaceutical ingredients, however, the focus being on flavor and texture.
The Science of Shopping
In the nearby SSL – the company’s second such facility, which opened this past June, four years after the first one in the United Kingdom, with a third planned for Singapore – the aim is to deliver transformational shopper research, insights and collaboration by leveraging cutting-edge technology. This includes working with retailers on joint business plans to identify and develop shopper initiatives that drive mutual profitability and category growth.
The digital lab within the SSL examines the subconscious layers of shopper buying decisions: eye tracking to determine whether particular measuring is working, by following what parts of a product's package capture consumers’ visual attention; facial biometrics, as determined by software that can code the emotions revealed in facial expressions in reaction to a product; and skin biometrics, through the measurement of perspiration as an indicator of consumer engagement. This information is then shared with retailers and brand marketing teams, enabling them to make any necessary product tweaks.
The SSL also features an immersive theater/seminar space for business-planning meetings, a focus group room with couches and low lighting, and, perhaps most interesting from my point of view, a retail store mockup displaying such next-generation merchandising solutions as a category-level end cap with a touch screen enabling searches by product name or symptoms to be alleviated, a turnkey kiosk where a customer can choose and pay for an item, and a touch display of allergy products in which shelving can be moved around and items added or deleted; retail planograms can also be loaded directly into the display.
Additionally, the store mockup is a venue for gathering static and mobile eye-tracking data to be shared with retail partners. The data can also be collected in the field.
The lab’s enormous collaboration room, intended for top-to-top meetings, is dominated by what GSK calls the biggest seamless touchscreen, at 18 feet wide by 9 feet high. The screen can display a number of reports and tests, including a virtual-reality generic supermarket that can be viewed from multiple angles, including a birds-eye vantage point, and used to determine category adjacencies, with retailer layouts, end caps and even aisles swappable at the press of a button. It can also, as GSK employees jokingly pointed out, be used to watch the upcoming Super Bowl.
GSK’s three Innovations Labs work together to address consumer needs by allowing immediate product modifications through a range of up-to-the-minute technologies, combined with in-depth consumer testing. The insights derived through this process aim to deliver products that perform better at retail and keep shoppers coming back for more.