In short, concept testing is a method of testing new products to estimate consumers’ attitudes to it before it is fully developed. Simple description, possibly drawn, and a questionnaire with assessment of intention to buy, supplied to sample. Studies may be repeated.
New product failures are a major concern of marketing organizations. Much literature has been directed at understanding the causes of new product failure and better ways to predict product success. Concept testing is one method to estimate consumer reactions to a new product or service before the product is fully developed.
This saves the time and cost of development while allowing the marketer some insights into whether or not it is financially advisable to create and market the product.
Concept testing is a form of exploratory research, and was developed to reduce product failure, increase the return on funds invested in designing and marketing new products, and to predict better and understand consumer responses to new products and concepts.
One goal of exploratory research, and accordingly concept testing, is to learn more about a given marketing situation before a major commitment is made by the organization. Specifically, concept testing allows for concept evaluation, target market identification, and product position placement.
It also provides the company an opportunity to make improvements on the product concept while still in the product design stage. In essence, it is an early screening mechanism to help anticipate how consumers will respond to the final product when (and if) it is presented in the marketplace.
There are many different ways to use concept testing. Service organizations may benefit from concept testing to see how well a new or additional service will be accepted by the current customer base.
For example, a hospital was considering a new form of billing to expedite the payment process. Before initiating the service, they held two focus groups, each with twelve previous users of the facility, to test the idea of the new billing procedure. After exposing the group members to the concept statement, they proceeded to evaluate how well it was understood, how believable were the benefits of the procedure, the potential advantages and disadvantages of such a billing procedure, and their overall propensity to be attracted to such a system.
Such discussions can turn into an iterative approach to evaluating and refining the overall concept. As comments are made, the concept can be adjusted (improved), given input from the group. The new improved concept can then be tested and further refined.
The number of iterations is dependent upon the complexity of the concept design and the willingness of the manager to keep testing the new concept.
If the concept is well defined, concept testing can also be performed using nonpersonal interviewing techniques.
A well-known hair care facility in Toledo, Ohio was considering expanding to a new location with a new concept in hair care. To test how acceptable the product would be to the surrounding customer base, a phone interview was conducted in which the following brief concept statement was read: “A new contemporary hair cutting and styling service is considering opening a store in the Uptown Shopping Center. This new salon would offer hair cuts for about $32.00 and styles for $45.00, and would not require any appointments. You could simply walk in when you wanted a hair cut or styling.”
The respondent was then asked, “Do you think that you would use such a facility if it were available in the Uptown Shopping Center?”
The answer choices read were:
- definitely would use,
- probably would use,
- probably would not use, and
- definitely would not use.
Several other questions were also asked in an effort to better understand exactly what type of hair care center was most appealing to the respondent.
By testing the concept before committing to the project, the hair care facility was able to estimate usage and customer reaction. Note that this type of non-personal data collection technique is best suited when the concept and potential customer base are well defined.
The benefits of concept testing are numerous. In addition to the advantages listed earlier, such as understanding customer reactions, defining the target market, and product position placement, concept testing also provides an objective appraisal of the concept by outside judges.
Oftentimes, pressures cause managers to hastily approve a product before testing. If concept testing were an accepted and expected practice, managers would not be willing to accept the responsibility of product introduction independent of some formal testing.
Secondly, product managers are often given specific goals to meet in a given time period. Therefore, product introductions are pushed through in order to meet the given objectives. The results of concept testing could be used to slow down the pressure to have a new product reach some arbitrary deadline.
Finally, there is often pressure to introduce a product that has strong backing from influential members of the corporation. By a mandatory testing procedure, the introduction decision becomes more objective than subjective.
Concept testing and advertising copy testing are often difficult to distinguish and separate from each other. Copy testing is designed to learn about the consumer’s reaction to the copy or advertising message.
Concept testing is performed to evaluate the reaction to or acceptance of the actual product concept. Therefore, when the concept statement is designed it merely describes the product. It does not attempt to “sell” the product or describe the product in terms of benefits.
Positioned between a copy statement and a concept statement is an embellished concept statement that includes some “sell.” Specifically, this is a concept statement that has some promo¬tional words included.
Before implementing a concept test, four questions must be answered.
First, what will the concept statement be? As mentioned above, the statement may take on one of two forms. It may be a straight concept statement or it may include some “sell.” To decide which statement design is best, an analysis of the product is helpful. If the product is very new and has few or no competitors, a bland or straight concept statement is best.
The purpose of the test is to learn about the appeal of the new product. However, if the product is entering a well defined competitive product class it is more realistic to use a concept statement that has been embellished.
This is needed since the product must be positioned against the competitors. If the statement includes a strong product position clause, the test may be referred to as a concept position test. In this case, not only the concept is being tested but also the position and the “sell” phrases.
Another consideration when writing the concept statement is the number of con¬cepts or concept statements being tested. If there are many statements to be read, it is best to use more bland or straightforward concept statements without any sell. If a position test is desired, the number of statements should be limited.
It is important to note that there is a great deal of interaction between the reaction to the concept and the reaction to the words used to describe the statement. Specifically, the same concept idea described by different copywriters received statistically different scores.
This indicates that it is not the concept in isolation being tested, but it is the concept in conjunction with the copy or word choice that is being tested. Because of this interaction, it is suggested that the less “sell” in a concept statement, the better or more pure the concept test will be.
The second issue is the design of the test itself. There are two distinct methods of concept testing.
The first type is to test the concept monadically, which means to test the concept without explicit comparison to its actual or potential competitors. This type of test is best when the competition is hard to define or there is not a detailed search process involved in buying this product.
Two comments have been made about this testing procedure. First, researchers say comparison is inherent and that it does not have to be explicitly introduced into the testing procedure.
Secondly, it has been shown that this testing procedure has been a good predictor of actual product acceptance.
The alternative method of testing is called competitive environment testing. This type of testing implicitly introduces the respondents to the competition in addition to the concept being tested. It is said to be a more realistic type of testing since actual print ads for the concepts are prepared and actual competitors’ ads are used.
This method is best when there is a considerable amount of search involved in the purchase process and the general level of knowledge about the alternative competitors is relatively low.
The third consideration when designing the concept test is to develop the questioning series. There is a considerable amount of discussion regarding whether or not the price should be included in the concept statement or left as a variable to be discussed in the interview.
If the product is entering an established product class and the prices are in a fairly tight range, price is probably not a significant variable. However, if the product is a new offering and the price will have an impact on the acceptance, price could be an important issue.
If this is the case, there are two available options. Various price levels could be used in the concept statements. Using the example above, the concept would be read stating that hair cuts would be $32.00; the next statement would read that hair cuts would be $36.00, and so forth. The change in the acceptance level would be attributed to the price changes.
Alternatively, the concept statement could be read without mentioning any prices and the respondents asked what price they would expect such a service would cost and/or how much they would be willing to pay for such a service.
The second concern with respect to the questioning series is the volume of usage projected for the consumer in a given time period. Specifically, if the objective of the concept test is to estimate acceptance and expected usage, it is necessary to
- project how much of the product would be used in a given time period, and
- estimate repeat purchase behavior (assuming the product was found to be acceptable after the first use).
Such information is possible to obtain through objective questions; however, the data is tentative at best since the respondents have not actually used the product.
The ability of the concept test to predict the long term success of the new product introduction is the last issue mentioned. The tester must define the actual goal of the concept test with respect to what measures will be used to define a “success.”
The decisions in the four areas listed above are not mutually exclusive. Overall, the decisions will be influenced by the objective of the test, the time and money that the organization is willing to invest, the number of concepts to be tested, and the type of product or service being tested.
The ability of concept testing to accurately predict consumer acceptance has been questioned for several reasons. First, it is often the case that the concept tested and the product offered on the market are not identical. Secondly, the product may match the concept but may be positioned differently in the market.
In both cases, the test is not an accurate assessment of the market’s reaction since the product is not being marketed in the same fashion that was presented in the test.
Third, the time lapse between the completion of the test and the offering of the product may have afforded a change in the marketing environment. Specifically, competitors’ reactions or economic changes may impact the consumers differently now than they did during the testing period.
This situation also interferes with how well the test will predict the actual acceptance levels.
Alternatively, there is no information available on how many potentially good products did not pass the concept test because of a poorly written concept statement or an inappropriate questioning series.
Finally, there is also some interest regarding how well the concept test can predict repeat purchase behavior since the product has not actually been used. Repeat purchase is also strongly dependent on the counter moves of the competition. Buyer behavior is a key element in the long-term success of the product so consequently it is a concern to management.
Generally, concept tests are a fairly good source of information if the concept tested is identical to the product offered and possible changes in the marketing environment are monitored and taken into consideration.
Concept testing has proven beneficial in forewarning management as to how the consumer will react to new products. However, it does not predict adoption rates or the potential frequency of purchase. This suggests that the benefits of concept testing are limited to providing information about the immediate reaction or the first trial potentials of the product.
Considering the vast number of product failures and the associated expense of a product failure, a well executed concept test definitely has a place in the product development stages of marketing.
Applications to Small Business
Concept testing can be used by large and small firms alike. The actual implementation of the testing procedure is the same. However, since the distribution area of the smaller firm may be somewhat limited, smaller firms may rely more on qualitative research from focus groups and other personal interviews than on collecting mass quantities of quantitative data.