Don’t Let a Concept Test Kill the Concept

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A traditional concept test is often used to predict the success of a new product or service idea before going to market. Unfortunately, many really novel concepts would not have been well received if subjected to the typical “go/no-go” quantitative test. Think about some of the things we use today that were not immediately embraced: ATMs, electronic books, five-day medications that last for ten days, etc. Instead, the researcher must think beyond the typical “test” to the broader scope of concept development—a process rather than a hurdle. When done right, concept development is a very powerful and insightful process that can save millions of dollars in some cases. (Remember New Coke or the Adidas Shackle Sneaker?)

Why is the concept test so risky? One problem is that many marketers/market researchers believe that the way to create a concept is to conduct a couple of focus groups and put a written statement in front of the respondents. Then the respondents will tell the moderator whether they like or dislike an idea. The result: a bunch of ideas get killed and never make it to development, and the remaining ones go into a concept test to jump over performance criteria on purchase intent and likeability.

This is just not the way to develop a concept. A more helpful way is with gradual refinement to help shape the idea into a marketplace-acceptable (and exciting) offer. With qualitative research, the articulation and actual language can be tweaked as well as understanding all other aspects of the marketing proposition.

Concept tests are unreliable without a nurtured concept development process because:

  1. Consumers are often skeptical – Sometimes folks really don’t want to think about doing something in a new and different way. Remember the clamshell mobile phone? Well, that was as exciting as sliced bread when it first came out. Then, the smart phone was created. I am sure few could imagine that having virtually our whole lives on a handheld device would be something we wanted or needed. Now I have teenager who is begging for a new iPhone (that she will not get while I am paying!). A new reality was created when Steve Jobs shunned convention and reinvented the category with something far more compelling than the Blackberry.
  2. Consumers can’t predict the future – Generally, we don’t know our reaction to an opportunity or idea until we really embrace it. I recall when I was in high school our bank got an ATM. I kept thinking, “Why do I need that when I just walk up to the teller?” Now, let’s fast forward. I use an ATM or an online portal for 99% of my bank transactions. I now wonder, “What is a teller?”
  3. Poor positioning or wrong language can create an artificial negative – The process of writing a concept at your desk and flashing it by a few consumers for feedback is far from optimal. The idea of nurturing an idea as you create a concept is key. Successively reviewing and refining an idea and crafting alternate positions are incredibly important. A great idea with the wrong positioning communication can quickly die out. On numerous occasions I have been brought in to help a client with concepts that failed in a BASES test (a quant test by the Nielsen group). The methodology for testing is very solid, but, when language is wrong, the consumer won’t bite.

Don’t risk walking into the testing stage without preparation. Your goal is to create winning ideas and concepts. Without solid concept development, your best ideas may never make it past the initial stages. Planning your next concept test with an organization that truly understands how to create a winning concept will save you time, money, and work. In addition, it will also help you decide which innovations are really worth championing—even if no one else shares your vision . . . yet.

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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