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The what, why and how of concept testing

Published 29 Sep 2021 7 minute read

Market Research
Concept Testing

Concept testing is a research method that involves asking customers questions about your product or service before launching it. It helps determine whether or not your target audience would be willing and interested enough to buy it before launching anything into production. 

Getting people to trust an idea is a key barrier in any market. By testing a concept before it goes to market, your team can evaluate products or services, an ad campaign, or even a claim by getting customer feedback from segments that form a part of your target audience.

Concept testing makes it easier to optimise your innovation, lowering risks of project failure and limiting excessive time and money investment. While it may not always give you a clear-cut answer, it’ll provide you with significant insights and experience to successfully interpret data and visualize opportunities, as well as establish needs.

What is concept testing?

Concept testing involves assessing, legitimising, and iterating your concepts to significantly improve the odds of turning a good idea into a profitable asset. It's essentially a form of insurance to limit business risks.

You can use concept tests to investigate how your target audience will react to a product, campaign, or initiative before releasing it to the market. Moreover, testing can be as sophisticated and iterative or straightforward and quick as you need.

You can test a single idea or compare different ideas with A/B tests. Whatever your approach and goal, you'll be able to highlight potential blind spots, misinterpretations, or other barriers that can result in market disinterest, and instead, arm you with relevant data to validate and sell your ideas.

Concept testing example: Lego using product development testing to discover more inclusive product ideas

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In 2011, 90% of Legos customers were boys. They didn’t intend this, but boys had grown to be their target audience.

However, Lego wasn’t giving up on girls. They wanted to better understand the play habits of young girls.

The company wanted every kid to be able to play with the toys. So they went ahead and conducted some thorough proper development testing to conceptualise and validate multiple ideas for more inclusive Lego sets.

When testing, Lego realised boys and girls had very different approaches when playing with their toys. They found that while boys played with the finished product, girls were more interested in designing interior layouts and structure details.

Lego applied this discovery to eventually launch Lego Friends that had more of the features girls look for, all the way to attention to detail in the interior.

Lego Friends helped triple the value of construction toys for girls from $300 million to a staggering $900 million between 2011 and 2014. 

To reiterate, concept testing helped Lego:

  • Understand what boys and girls looked for in a Lego set
  • Validate their findings
  • Create more inclusive Lego sets that appeal to both boys and girls

Lego has since used concept testing to develop more inclusive products and is actively working on making its target market more inclusive.

Why is concept testing so important?

Without concept testing, you cannot predict the success or failure of a finished idea early in the process. Regardless of whether you are in the early stages of research design, or launching new products, redesigning a marketing campaign, starting a loyalty program, or launching a new logo, testing your concept is a must.

Product concept testing will help you collect valuable customer insights and better predict whether you’re investing in something useful for your target audience. It will validate ideas that best resonate with your current or prospective customer, allowing you to build a successful product or experience.

When done correctly, concept testing can help you:

  • Understand the effectiveness of individual concept assets
  • Break barriers to unlocking a concept’s full potential
  • Identify concept status in a competitive market
  • Define customer relationships with a concept
  • Uncover brand equity assets and potential consistencies and inconsistencies in brand image and customer perception
  • Identify failure caused by lack of perceived value
  • Discover elusive brand aspects and concept personality
  • Establish unrecognized product benefits
  • Avoid the pursuit of assumptions and costly mistakes!

It’s worth remembering that you are not your user. The risk of investing resources into developing an idea that’s already obsolete, coupled with the highly dynamic consumer trends, is too costly that won't bode well for your business's bottom line.

4 types of concept testing to validate product ideas

Concept testing methods are categorised based on how the concepts are displayed. Since each of the concepts is suitable for different research purposes, you must understand every methodology before choosing one for your testing.

1. Monadic testing (Single concept evaluation) -

Monadic testing involves breaking your target audience into smaller groups. Each group tests a single product feature and provides feedback on why an idea is more lucrative than the others. Respondents here answer concept testing questions like “Does this concept assure value for money?“ and “ how’s the overall feature satisfaction?“

2. Sequential monadic testing (Multiple concepts evaluation)

Here, the researcher breaks the target audience into groups. Each group is given the responsibility to evaluate concepts in a random, rotating sequence. For instance, Group A will examine a feature and then pass it to Group B, while Group B will pass another idea to Group C.

This ensures everyone and the target audience has the chance to examine all the concepts and provide feedback. After the examination, each group will respond to the same set of concept testing survey questions or questionnaires.

3. Comparison testing (Concept selection)

Comparison testing, also known as comparative testing, helps weigh multiple concepts and determine how they measure against each other. Generally, respondents rate concepts against a fixed set of criteria, but there may also be cases where they only have to select the better feature or answer when subjected to ranking questions.

4. Proto monadic testing (Concept selection and evaluation)

Proto monadic testing combines sequential tests and comparison tests. Respondents examine ideas, compare unique features, and then choose the best fit after evaluation.

How to get started with concept testing: Best practices

Below, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you test and validate your idea with your target audience:

1. Determine a goal for your concept test

Trying to gauge if potential customers “like” your concept won’t get you anywhere. If you want to succeed, you need to decide on a measurable aspect to determine whether or not your target market finds your initiative valuable enough to purchase it.

You need laser-focused goals and targets for your tests. For example, if you're a business testing a new feature idea, your goal could be something like, “We want to validate that 80% or more of our users find this product feature useful."

Having clearly defined concept test goals will help you quickly assess whether a concept is worth pursuing or what you might need to change to increase its appeal – or even to abandon it altogether.

2. Tap into your target audience

The whole point of concept validation is to conduct it with your target audience, i.e. people who fit the demographics of your ideal customer base. Otherwise, you won't be able to determine your concept's potential.

Try to recruit the right participants for your service – participants who will provide you with genuine feedback to develop and launch a successful idea that actually meets the requirements of your intended audience.

3. Phrase your questions according to your audience

The language used in concept testing and how questions are phrased directly impact the effectiveness of your concept tests. Consider this:

Bad research question: Do you prefer product A over product B?
Good research question: Which product do you prefer and why?

In the above example, changing how the question is phrased will help you get a less biased answer from your target customers. You will also have a better idea of where you went wrong with the less favoured product.

Customers can only give genuine feedback when they understand the intent of the questions being asked of them. If they’re unsure or don’t fully understand the motivation for the question, it’ll be harder to get the desired results. Posing relevant and well-thought-out research questions will allow you to uncover deep insights to validate your concept or innovation, as well as identify and evaluate what’s lacking.

Common concept testing mistakes and how to avoid them

Innovation in any market is always risky. Pushing a new idea forward is challenging and expensive, which is why you cannot afford to make mistakes. Read on as we detail some of the most common concept testing mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Dismissing concepts before testing

When you and your team are brainstorming ideas, keep your focus on just that – brainstorming. Too many organisations reject concepts early on that meet with internal challenges. This is wrong on many levels, not least because what you are aiming for is to know whether the concepts will appeal to your customer, not whether it's convenient for your business.

Start working on relevant troubleshooting or problem-solving activities only when you’re done with the ideation phase. Encourage ideas, and resist the urge to evaluate and dismiss concepts right off the bat. 

Mistake #2: Rejecting concepts that are hard for customers to grasp

You do want the voice of the customer in your corner, but you shouldn’t reject ideas just because they are too complex, unexpected, or unfamiliar for your audience. 

Your customers may have difficulty imagining certain innovations, but you shouldn’t be quick to dismiss them because they may love your idea when experienced first-hand. Before the launch of the Son Walkman, what would people have thought about music on the move? Could they have imagined a portable music player then, or has it evolved since?

If you are facing difficulties conveying a concept to your audience, pitch your idea to a panel of experts in your niche. This will help you evaluate the potential of your concept with greater accuracy.

Mistake #3: Using the concept testing approach for both major and minor innovations

Minor and major innovations have varying degrees of “newness“ in terms of the potential audience. It’s why the factors that can help you predict a major innovation’s success differs from a minor innovation’s success.

For example, before launching a major innovation, it’s better to consider dimensions like likeability and believability, whereas a concept’s problem-solving ability could be more relevant for minor innovations.

If you’ve decided on a mixed-method approach including quantitative research or online qual, then be extra careful about setting your goals and be sure to test the structure and quality of your activities.

Mistake #4: Misunderstanding the scope of the study 

Businesses often make the mistake of testing too many concepts in too short a time frame or testing concepts with too few differences or only slight variations. Either way, you’ll be wasting your time. Be clear on exactly what you are testing before you begin and make sure there is enough to distinguish between concepts. 

Think about what you want to validate and who you're testing it with. Which products? What features? And, what do you hope to gain from the insights? Then design a conceptual brief accordingly.

Mistake #5: Prioritising speed over quality

You may want to run a longer study but budget and time prevent you from doing so. These are inevitable challenges on any project but cutting corners will only undermine the study, compromise its quality and lead to less reliable insights. Since you're already putting in the effort, you should try to maximise every opportunity.

When using online qual, it's better to run five or fewer activities a day. Don't try to cramp all your tests in a single day, and instead, distribute your entire workload. This will help you get more valuable insights, and in turn, better outcomes.

Mistake #6: Vague presentation and structure of concepts

The way you present your concept impacts your concept testing success. You must decide the right method of collecting information and presenting the findings in a way that simplifies final concept selection and ranking.

A bad format choice will obscure the benefits or usefulness of your concept. It's also possible that customers may not respond well to overwhelming elements like flashy animation, superfluous graphics, or heave text.

Keep in mind, the right format will change from concept to concept. Try to use a setup that gives you a better understanding of your customer's reactions.

You can learn more about how we can help you avoid these mistakes and identify high-quality concepts that resonate with your target audience by speaking with one of our research specialists or booking a demo of our online qual platform, Together™

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