Iterative Concept Development Might Be Right for Your Next Project

potter creates a pitcher on a pottery wheel

Iterative concept development with proper qualitative research really ensures that your concepts reflect the desired benefits, the language, and emotions of your target audience. After all, your target is the “consumer” of your product or service, so it totally makes sense to get it straight from the horse’s mouth in a qualitative setting.

The challenge for many is that some aren’t even familiar with the power of iterative concept development. To start, let’s define it for you. Iterative qualitative research is when you develop an idea or concept through repeated interfaces with your target audience. Each “round” of research showcases a “new and improved” version of the concept to take it to the next level for the next group. The approach is a very powerful way to make sure that a concept if relatively airtight prior to spending a lot of money on a quantitative test.

While many projects can benefit from iterative research (structure, graphic, advertising, concepts, etc.), the key is that you need to recognize when it might be just the perfect approach. Outlined below are a couple areas to think about.

You have:

  1. 5-8 concept ideas – Your team has reason to believe that a variety of different concept approaches might make sense for your business based on previous learning. The last thing you want to do is have a senior manager “pick her favorite.” The iterative process allows you to identify the best candidates of the bunch and optimize them for the greatest chance of success.
  2. Concepts that are testably different – It is critical that your concepts are going to be noticeably different from the perspective of the target audience. Often clients believe that changing a few words makes the concept different. Unfortunately, most consumers will not even discern any real difference, and you may find yourself spinning your wheels. That being said, as you refine iteratively, you may have different ways to express the same idea, but they truly need to sound different even if the interpretation is the same. At some point, iterative work will allow you to collapse two ideas into one, taking the lead articulation as the one to move forward with.
  3. A well-defined, specific target audience – Knowing your target is especially important. Iterative requires that you make decisions based on consumer feedback. As such, you can’t bounce from target audience to target audience. If you do, you won’t feel confident that ideas can be combined or dropped after each session.
  4. A cross-functional team with full commitment to the project – Iterative done well takes time. This is definitely not going to be a 3-focus-group-in-1-day type of research project. The groups need to be paced, with scheduled working sessions between each encounter. It can make for a somewhat long day, so it often needs to be spread across several days to maximize results and minimize client fatigue. The cross-functional team is important because different people hear feedback differently (and this perspective is quite helpful) and the entire team will have ownership of the results and will be champions to the lead concept when they return to the office.
  5. A team willing to embrace dynamic Improvement – Everyone needs to be comfortable making adjustments and moving forward. With a properly structured iterative session, the team doesn’t always have the luxury of hearing feedback several times before moving forward. Sometimes it is more about joining hands and singing “Kum-ba-ya” knowing that you’ve made some hard choices and left some ideas behind.

So perhaps you’ll rethink the methodology for your next concept development project. Note that you need someone who is skilled at both conducting qualitative research and facilitating the team’s work in order for this to be most successful. Plus, it never hurts to have an expert at concept writing, too.

Martha Guidry, or “The Concept Queen” as she is known, is a researcher, concept and branding expert, motivational speaker, author and consultant. Her company, The Rite Concept, helps companies research and develop winning concepts for their brand, products and services. She also trains teams to develop and write winning concepts. 


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