Capturing the Butterfly CurveHow has Apple been able to make major leaps from one product iteration to the next without alienating its consumers?

Marketers must follow the rule of the “butterfly curve,” as Barbara Kahn, the Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor and director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center, explained in her Wharton Webinar Series event.

According to the butterfly curve, humans tend to adapt to stimuli over time. The translation to marketing is that companies must every so often tweak the packaging of products to please and attract shoppers.

“It has to be different, but not too much different,” Kahn said.

Too big of a change can antagonize loyal customers.

Adjusting the shape of a ketchup bottle, darkening the hue of a candy-bar wrapper, or thickening the circular designs on a laundry detergent box—such small changes might seem like the trivial obsessions of marketers trying to appear like they earn their salaries.

But tiny alterations are big business. Since the 1930s when supermarkets eclipsed neighborhood corner stores as the spot where Americans shopped, marketers have conducted serious packaging research, Kahn said. To gain new market share at supermarkets and big-box stores, brands change packaging, not necessarily what’s in the package.

Supermarket Shopping“They know how much it influences consumer perceptions,” Kahn said, adding that today’s marketers use brain imaging, eye tracking and increasingly more sophisticated technologies to study the impact of stimuli upon target consumers.

As for Apple’s secret, Kahn believes the technology giant is able to convince consumers to “think different” about its products and packaging because changes made to them, although not often incremental, are done with such good design.

Kahn’s webinar “Understanding Consumer Perceptions: A Critical Issue for Marketers.” took place on Nov. 1.

Wharton’s next webinar, “The Economy and Real Estate: Implications for the Housing Market,” will be led by Joseph Gyourko, Wharton’s Martin Bucksbaum Professor of Real Estate and Chairperson of the Real Estate Department. It  will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 6, from noon to 1 p.m. EST.

You can access the recording of Kahn’s webinar and view the upcoming event lineup at the Wharton Webinar Series page.