Concept Testing: A Definitive Guide

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Concept testing is used to understand if ideas have enough potential for further investment and growth. They can occur at any phase within the marketing cycle but are typically conducted early on to protect limited advertising and research dollars. Given that 80% of all new products fail, it is critical to understand how your concept or idea will perform within the marketplace.

Concept testing is typically done with quantitative surveys and qualitative research (e.g., focus groups and IDIs). Your concept test should focus on potential users of the product, as well as critical demographics or segments that you believe will be most receptive to the concept. Showing the idea without any leading information is essential to get a clean read on the viability of it. Regardless of methodology, the investment in conducting a concept test pales in comparison to the costs associated with launching, re-launching, or re-branding a product that has hit the market.

Why do Concept Testing?

To validate the market potential - An idea is only as good as it's volume. If a concept sounds great on paper but does not compel people to buy, it's a failure. Understanding the critical metrics around purchase interest, differentiation, and word-of-mouth potential is vital. Using a normative database, it's easy to see how your product stacks up to products already available in the market.

To build the idea out further - Outside of critical metrics, concept testing provides a wealth of information about what resonates with consumers. Understanding the features, messages, and packaging that ultimately drive interest will help you stand out when ready to launch the product.

To get rid of poor concepts - Frequently, multiple ideas are tested concurrently. These can either be unique concepts or variations of a single concept. By examining them all within a separate study, you can understand which ones to move forward with and also understand why specific ideas are less compelling.

To understand the critical buyer - Generally, no concept is going to appeal to everyone. By understanding whom the idea resonates with most, doing advanced quantitative analysis (i.e., slicing and dicing the data) will show you who your target customer is, their key demographics and psychographics, and how to more intelligently market to them.

To estimate potential sales - With quantitative testing, you can get a general idea of possible sales volume. It's not perfect, but it should help you to gauge the overall viability and whether or not the return will be worth the investment of making it market ready.

When you have a big idea that you want to succeed, testing it will go a long way to bringing it into the world... whether it be refining it, validating it, or optimizing it.

Key questions to ask in a concept test

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  • What are the critical measures I need to understand this concept?

  • How does it stand out versus the competition?

  • What are the unique features that I can own within the space?

  • How and why does this idea capture the hearts and minds of consumers?

  • Does this fit with my brand, and how does it impact my overall brand equity?

Concept Testing in an Organization

In any organization, one of the key barriers is getting people to trust an idea. By testing the concept, you can show up smarter and be armed against those who think the ideal will failure, or who need data to help them make a decision. After all, if consumers like it and you can effectively drive awareness and distribution, why wouldn't it work?

85% of market researchers say it is paramount to test products before launch. It makes activation more accessible, as you already know how consumers feel about it, what they like and dislike, and what to say...reducing the ambiguity of the launch success.

Types of concept testing

Concept testing covers a variety of elements and can include:

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  • Logos

  • Product or Brand Names

  • Product Pricing

  • Packaging

  • Messaging

How to conduct research

Qualitative Research

Focus Groups are an incredibly common tool. In focus groups, you gather a collective of interested buyers and show them the concept. Focus groups allow people to discuss the idea and highlight the benefits and drawbacks of the idea. This way, you get to better insights, and it may spark ideas on how to optimize the concept or lead you to a new approach entirely.

In-depth interviews (or IDIs) are typically one-on-one interviews between a moderator and a participant, usually in person. Similar to focus groups, the dialogue is recorded and transcribed. Compared to focus groups, IDIs usually get more in-depth insights, since the moderator go further into the conversation with a single person. Focus groups, on the other hand, typically get answers from every participant to keep people engaged.

Both Focus Groups and IDIs leverage open-ended questions so you can understand the rationale behind responses, and clarify the discussion.

Quantitative Research

There are three critical types of quantitative concept testing.

Monadic testing exposes consumers to a singular concept, product, or isolated aspect of a stimulus, independent of any other stimulus. This is best when you want to evaluate a single concept, and do not care about the preference among multiple concepts or iterations.

Sequential monadic testing still shows one concept at a time, but respondents will go through a series of loops evaluating each concept independently. This methodology helps to identify small differences and nuances between concepts. Once all concepts have been tested, you can include a "bake-off" question to have respondents select their favorite concept among all those shown, which is helpful if the data supports alternative conclusions.

Discrete choice testing uses advanced analytics to evaluate concepts. In other words, consumers will see 40-50 iterations of an idea and will be asked to select their favorite. By showing an exhaustive set of options, it's easy to see the parameters that drive choice. One final benefit is that you can test competitive brands and products, which highlights how often you'll be selected vs. the competition and where you are likely to source volume from.

Trend Research

Finally, it’s critical to keep an eye on trends occurring within your market. A product may produce great concept testing scores, but in dynamic industries, it might be on the downturn.

Key questions include:

  • What impact do trends have on our industry?

  • How is the landscape shifting to address these changes?

  • What can our brand do to be on the forefront of innovation?

No matter the idea, concept testing is an essential step in the launch cycle...and ignoring it could cost you dearly.

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