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Thursday, 26 November 2015

New concepts for concept testing

Natalie Reed believes high rates of failure in new products are the result of uninspired concept testing. Here, she outlines ways to changes the testing process and improve the new product hit-rate.

Approaches to product concept testing have remained largely unchanged for the last 20 years, and with it the success rate of new product launches has stayed fairly static. Four years ago, SymphonyIRI president Bob Tomei pegged the new product failure rate at 80% to 90%, and little has changed since.

It is our view that there are serious flaws to conventional product concept testing and a definite correlation between how concepts are tested and the high rate of failure. What is going wrong?

1. Expecting to get product ideas right first time
Problem: Companies expect to be able to read the viability of a product idea quickly and easily – whether they are using an online research tool, focus group or other methodology. Successful innovations do not tend to happen smoothly – it is very rare for an idea to be spot-on immediately.

Solution: There needs to be a process of learning and refining. Consumers might initially slate a product idea because they don’t agree with the benefits or suggested usage, but if the idea is shown in a different way, or consumers are allowed to play around to see how they can make it work, a new angle might open up. The same can be true of a product idea that was initially liked, but which becomes less attractive as the implications and alternatives are considered.

2. Involving consumers too late in the process
Problem: It is common for concept testing to occur when it’s too late to do anything about it – when the business case has already been built, the product design and development completed and incorporated into the company’s projections. In such instances, everything is reliant on whether the right product communication can be found.

Solution: By far the most valuable time to have consumer involvement in product development is when the product idea is embryonic and when there is little internal commitment and buy-in for a particular concept. At this stage, however, It is vital that consumers are given the scope to mould the whole concept – from the name to the structural packaging, the product description and claims. They need to see, play and stretch the possibilities of all elements to be able to create a well thought through product concept and truly add value.

3. Pre-determining the product benefits
Problem: The product concept is often too tightly defined prior to bouncing it off consumers. Internal teams have already decided what the product’s key benefits are before they have introduced the idea to potential buyers. Time and time again we find that what companies think of as the real product benefits are different from what the consumer sees. This is because the internal team often perceives the marketplace in a very narrow way, and researchers and consumers are not given enough room to manoeuvre so their thinking is immediately constrained.

Solution: Give consumers all the potential product benefits you can think of but don’t predefine it for them. Also, thoroughly educate the research facilitator on the product idea and all its possibilities, variations and potential parameters.

4. Using consumers as judge and jury, not as active creators
Problem: Concept testing is practiced rather naively: gather a couple of focus groups, read a simple description of the concept and ask people for their reactions. Or, if you are doing it online, ask the respondent to consider a design and a bit of copy for a minute or so on a computer screen and then give their opinions. A lay person would be shocked that this is how new product concepts are tested.

Solution: Consumers should be far more involved and allowed to get their hands dirty. It seems that co-creation is most often used to come up with product ideas, but it is less commonly used to develop and refine concepts. This is how consumers can add the most value. By bringing them into the development team you will see hidden angles and uncover issues long before any form of launch plan is conceived. This way, consumers becomecollaborators, a knowledge resource and an integral part of a successful product development process.

Natalie Reed is strategy partner at brand consultancy Reach

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Thanks for this, some interesting thoughts and a really important area that I wanted to add my own mumblings to. The role of research in the development of a concept / product is to:

    Primarily reduce risk, as tackled in points 1 and 4. For me this can be done through staggered product investment supported by data collection and / or research at each stage of that investment.

    Secondarily, spot opportunities, which your points 2 and 3 address. There are product designers and innovators who are great at this, so where can research help? I pitched at Rolls Royce early in my career. We were met with the question 'what can you tell me that my agents, in each territory, can't tell me?'. It's a question I apply to every project I work on and for me is a critical question all research investment must stand up to. Its not about testing an idea, but about spotting a consumer need that is not being met and evolving a solution. Its the study of behavior which is often overlooked in the development of new products - why? Because its mighty hard to spot and it can be expensive to evolve a solution that processes this post product stage of innovation. For me it is important to get as close to the end consumer as possible. Sometimes its not about following each 'type' of person but identifying a 'sort', perhaps an early adopter with a niche interest, and immersing yourselves in their natural behavior. Well designed communities for me are one of the best ways of facilitating trend spotting, which is why some of the most innovative brands have adopted this methodology (check out C4 in this months Research magazine).

    I have experienced three flaws in the way the research industry (and myself on occasions if I'm honest) approaches the development of an idea through to product launch:

    - Over-complicating and over-simplifying. For me we often try to adopt a clever methodology or sometimes an easy answer which is as stated above, often due to the fact we have pre-determined idea and expectation. I find the best way to overcome this when involving the consumer is to be honest about their role in the research. 'We are X, we think you might like Y so we are looking to develop a product/s. We would really appreciate your honest opinion and once we have it we will evolve the product and re-present it to you to make sure we heard you right - you in?'

    - Co-creation, its the principle that bugs me. I may be slightly biased as I work in kids research, but what I get told is 'I have loads of ideas, but its not my job to create a product / TV show...'. Consumers, even if it is just kids, want to be part of the feedback process on what they consume. But they don't want to dictate it or design it, they want the pro's to understand their needs and evolve relevant offerings. Look at youtube or twitter, great testing beds for what's trending and a serious source of data on what can be produced. But that's just people creating and consuming as a personal interest, its not asking an individual to step out of their lives and interrogate an idea that may or may not have any real context in their life.

    - Learn from the failures. It can be as insightful to understand why something doesn't work as why something else may work.

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  • Great points, Nancy. Key to me is your second point, "Involving consumers too late in the process". Consumers need to be engaged up front, in qualitative research to better understand their underlying unmet needs. As a corrollary to your point, I'd say, "Involving consumers too little in the process". A good research plan will include consumer insights for exploration, ideation and optimization, all leading to concept testing.

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  • Hi Nancy
    Its a great article. Product development should not be a "push". It should be a "pull" by identifying the need gaps that exist. Concepts should not just be tested on "likeability". It should identify and plug a relevant need gap which requires a lot of insight before designing the concept itself!

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  • Another key aspect in getting meaningful insights is to do with Sampling & using of advanced statistical analysis

    Careful assessment of sampling - Getting the right insights in terms of key segments for sampling. It is often seen that for repetetive type of studies, we may just copy / paste questionnaires, requirements from earlier studies. How do we assess the sample requirements? Is it universally representative? Do we need to do projections etc

    We need to assess as to who are the sampe? How they can be reached? Online vs groups vs face to face or combination of all. How reliable is the sampling source? Are we stuck with usage of panels because of pricing which we get & we do not have the liberty to assess or use other panels.

    I have also noticed that the research folks currently do not have a strong statistical or research methodologies background. The analysis on projects is very process oriented & not much time & though goes into analyzing the results & giving due recommendations in terms of going ahead with the concept or not. Earlier I used to work with research folks who used to read the data & do analysis such are regression, tailed tests, factor & clusters & then substantiate their recomemendations with meaningful conclusions.

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  • You might try not testing concepts. Seriously. General Mills tested 10,000 cereal concepts, over ten years with but one winner. Why? Who the heck knows what some combination of grains and other "crap" might taste like. I would imagine that testing kid product concepts is much the same. Better to test a prototype. Or don't test so many concepts all at once that the respondents lose interest. 65% of google searches STOP at the third item down...and only 1% of searchers get to page two. Too many choices is stressful. I once wrote a commercial that tested horribly against the on air campaign, but there was cause to put my commercial on air anyway. And once on air it sold product as well as the much higher scoring commercial. Why? The test results were based on a single viewing...and the commercial needed two viewings to both hear and see what was going on. My conclusion from both experiences...the more you test real life products the better the results.

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