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