Concept testing is the process through which research is used to assess whether a new or updated product gives customers what they’re looking for. Through concept testing, brands can gauge customers’ receptiveness to their product, informing their go-to-market strategy.
For example, a well-loved soda brand can determine whether it will maintain its loyal fan base once it launches a new flavour, or a traditional bricks and mortar store can assess whether a new load of revenue will come in from an eCommerce expansion.
It makes sense to start your product concept testing right at the beginning of your product development process. This will ensure that you know there’s actually a need for your product long before you get into the details of its development and production. You should also continue to build on your product concepts throughout the whole of your new product development (NPD) process.
Concept testing use cases
There are lots of different uses for concept testing for a business. Here are a few examples of key concept testing use cases to get you started:
New products and features
Loads of companies and product managers use concept testing in new product development. It’s a surefire way to get to the bottom of what your target market wants and needs, and how a new product idea like yours can benefit them.
Concept tests for your product ideas can help you by giving super granular insights into the opinions, habits and behaviours of your target audience. Something like a concept testing survey gives you the opportunity to get to the heart of what your customer base needs and expects from your products or new features.
New website or logo testing
Developing a new website or logo can be a long process that might end up being a waste of time if you’re not confident the work will be rewarded by increased conversion or more customers.
Through concept testing, you can find out the consumer acceptance of your website, rebrand or logo work. Building brand testing like this into your marketing strategy and your marketing campaigns will ensure you’ve done the necessary research and have the insights you need to make the best use of your time.
Identifying new customer segments
You might think you have a good idea of who your target customers are and that you only need to create a product that appeals to them, but don’t be so sure!
Concept testing can also be a really useful way for marketing and commercial teams to uncover potential customers that you might not have considered before. Market research on a large scale like this gives you an in depth understanding of markets, new customers and consumer needs you might want to tap into.
A key part of any product development is nailing your pricing strategy. You obviously want your product concept to make money for your business, but to make sure that happens you also need it to be positioned at the right price for your target customers.
Successful products are ones that customers are happy to pay for, so pitching your new concept at the right price for the market is crucial. Luckily concept tests give commercial and marketing teams the actionable insights you need to move towards your product launch.
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A successful concept test strategy is an essential part of any product launch, from the ideation phase through development, to the final product and into the market.
For a product manager to deliver a successful product concept, it’s essential they have a full understanding of their target audiences, their entire product category and existing products.
There are a few tried and tested methods for concept testing , which we’ll explore later in this guide.
Let’s look at each stage where concept testing could be applied.
The four main stages of new product development are: identification, assessment, development and positioning.
At a minimum, concept testing should be a vital ingredient within each of these stages.
Concept testing should be used first to help identify the key markets, and the gaps open in those key markets.
Next comes the assessment of product-market fit, including the potential for comparison between concept options.
Concept tests should be used during the development stage to keep a finger on the pulse of the target audience, ensure the product features meet their needs and that the market isn’t shifting significantly away from a demand for the product currently in development.
Finally, concept testing should be used to optimise the positioning of the final product, including pricing, the packaging preferences, advertising copy, visual merchandising and so on.
Why concept testing is essential for new product development
It’s no secret that it costs money to test a product idea prior to launch. Businesses will often forgo testing in favour of intuition and experience of the market. This is obviously a risk. It might pay off, but backing up your different concepts with robust testing and product research before product launches is clearly going to put you on more solid foundations.
Research into the reasons business strategies fail found that nearly one in five CEOs say they fail because the strategies themselves are flawed. The same study found that four out of five failures are preventable.
Product testing is a massive part of creating and delivering a business strategy, so it’s clear that when it’s done well and thoroughly it can mean make or break for businesses.
Examples of concept testing for new products
When a concept test goes well, it can go spectacularly well. Here are a couple of examples of just that – concept testing that paid off massively:
Leading toy manufacturer Lego wanted to branch out their products to an audience they’d previously struggled to tap into – girls. Less than 10% of their sales came from girls so Lego saw massive opportunity here, but how do you become successful to a target audience that clearly isn’t a huge existing customer group for you?
Concept testing is the answer!
Through tests into play habits Lego found out that girls prefer to build entire environments and interior layouts, rather than single structures. So they developed a new product range to appeal to this target market, tripling the market for girls’ construction toys in just two years.
Yamaha, the world-leading manufacturer of a range of products, from motorbikes to keyboards, had a dilemma – should they use sliding faders or knobs on one of their biggest keyboard products?
Ever the innovators, Yamaha decided to ask musicians which feature they preferred. They sent out a concept test survey, gathering hundreds of responses from their target audience.
Using the insights they gained from their concept test surveys, Yamaha was able to confidently offer their customers a single concept they knew would resonate and create success.
And sometimes the lack of concept testing has disastrous results:
Cosmetics giant Avon made the move into retirement homes, hoping to engage a previously underserved target market. Due to a lack of understanding about what this market wanted and needed, the move ended up costing the company a whopping $545million.
How to do concept testing for new products
There are some crucial steps to take when carrying out concept testing for new products:
Selecting the right concept testing methods
Choose the right tools
Pick the best concepts and share
Right at the beginning of your concept testing process you should set out what you want to achieve. Your objectives should be clearly in line with your overall business objectives to make sure that your product concept test projects are useful for the business as a whole.
Your objectives could include:
Quantify how likely your product is to be purchased by the existing/newly identified target audience.
Determine how well the product will stand out among other competitors’ products. Will your existing features be enough to win over new customers?
Discover which concept features would be most likely to encourage current customers to renew their membership, subscription or purchase from you again.
These are just three goals you could set to make sure you feel the benefits of concept testing.
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There are several methods for product testing. The different methods are generally differentiated by how your single or multiple concepts are displayed to your target audience. You’ll end up with a different set of data at the end of each method, and each will be useful to you in different ways.
Here are four essential methods of concept testing:
For comparison testing, multiple concepts will be presented to your audience, and the respondents rate or rank each concept.
Comparison testing is a simple way to understand which concept or concepts resonate best with your target audience, but remember that it has its limits: you will have reliable data on which concept is best, but you won’t yet have insight into why your audience made these choices.
Monadic testing is when you break your audience down into groups and each group is shown a single concept to evaluate. The great thing about this is that it allows you to go into greater depth about each concept, without asking your target audience to take too much time and effort answering a long concept testing survey.
Through monadic testing you’re more able to ask follow-up questions about your specific concept test, giving you more overall insight into why consumers made their choices. Think of it like large-scale focus groups.
Sequential monadic testing
As a combination of monadic and comparison testing, sequential monadic testing can give you the best of both worlds.
Just like monadic testing you split the target audience into multiple groups, but here you show them all of your concepts. This does mean that this type of market research can be lengthy and result in a lower completion rate overall. But it can also be a cheaper form of concept test, because the audience needed for sequential monadic testing is relatively small.
This sounds more complicated than it is – it’s essentially a combo of all of the above! Protomonadic market research tends to include sequential monadic testing followed by a comparison test, where your audience chooses their favourite concept.
This allows you to gain a full understanding of your product concepts, as it covers the most useful aspects of sequential monadic testing and helps back up insights uncovered during comparison testing.
Choose the right tools
The simplest and most effective way to carry out your concept test surveys is to start using a tool that does the legwork for you.
Luckily for you there are loads of great tools out there that allow you to concept test, reaching real consumers around the world.
To make sure your concept test allows you to confidently evaluate consumer acceptance of your product, choosing the ideal audience is key.
Your consumer responses need to tell you how likely your target audience is to buy what you’re offering, otherwise your product managers will have the wrong customers in mind during development.
A good place to start is by excluding consumers that wouldn’t ever be attracted to your concept. For example, if you’re developing a new type of baby food, you can confidently exclude consumers who don’t have children.
Make sure not to narrow your consumer range too much though. Most survey platforms, like Attest, allow you to filter your survey results, allowing you to analyse segments within your broader audience group once the results are in.
Sometimes you might wish to keep the net wide enough to capture both current and potential future customers. Asking for respondents’ current brand and market purchases, then routing the survey based on their answer to this question will allow you to dig deeper into the motivations behind their status as a current customer or not. Considering whether your concept seeks to grow new leads or build loyalty will help inform this decision.
Put simply, your survey audience should reflect how broad your target market could conceivably be.
Pick the best concepts and share
Once you’ve carried out your concept testing, it’s time to evaluate your results and take the findings back to your business. If you’re a marketer, your marketing or commercial leads will want to know the test results. And your product colleagues will also be top of your list – they’ll need the insights you get to inform their product development work.
Concept testing best practices
There are some important dos and don’ts for when you’re organising and analysing your concept testing. Here are some things to avoid:
Don’t forget about the Uniqueness Paradox. While ‘unique’ is a characteristic sought-after by marketers and product developers, measuring uniqueness through market research is infamously problematic, and the more unique a concept is, the lower its purchase intent can sometimes be.
Don’t mix and match metrics across concept tests. Even something as simple as varying the wording of a survey question can skew results, so be careful not to be too inconsistent.
Don’t cram too many questions into one survey. This one may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how easy it is to overload a survey with questions, particularly if multiple stakeholders are involved in its development. Too many questions will cause fatigue among your respondents, and your response rate might drop off or they might not pay much attention to your questions.
Don’t forget to set a benchmark. It’s wise to include a benchmarking or control variable to directly compare results to. Adding a control, perhaps in the form of a previous concept that was successful, can help you translate the raw data into real-world application and results.
Don’t encourage bias. It’s important to be aware of biases that are common in concept testing. Whenever you’re asking for a single or multiple responses, unless it’s necessitated by a scale, answers should be randomised to reduce primary bias. Without answer randomisation, responses could skew to the answers at the top of the list.
This has been a far-reaching guide to all things concept testing. Your next step should be to start testing your awesome concepts with real target audiences. Even if they don’t all think your concepts are awesome (yet!), at least then you’ll know.
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Senior Customer Research Manager
Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.