What do New Coke, the Ford Edsel, and Netflix’s Qwikster have in common? They were all flops because they didn’t resonate with their target customers. Any company, large or small, can suffer the misfortune of launching a dud. But you can lower your chances of blowing it by embracing concept testing, a practice that can help you out if a product or service has a high chance of becoming a winner, needs refinement, or is doomed from the outset. Here’s an overview of concept testing and some concept testing examples.
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What is concept testing?
Concept testing involves presenting early versions of your product ideas, campaigns, or projects to some of your potential customers and asking them to provide feedback before you launch the ideas publicly. Businesses can concept test ideas during the ideation phase of a product development process to let them know if a potentially promising concept is worth pursuing.
There are many concept testing methods. Businesses will often disseminate a concept testing survey and ask survey participants to view several versions of one product concept, or even multiple concepts, over a period of time. These concept tests may resemble focus groups in which people provide opinions on things they liked, things they’d change, and things they didn’t understand about an idea or product. An effective concept testing survey should provide your business with information about whether its products or campaign ideas align with the target market.
Concept testing is distinct from market research, which gives a business information about a target market, including customer demographics and competition. Concept testing, by contrast, focuses on one particular company initiative such as a product launch or an ad campaign.
4 concept testing methods
As a small-business owner rolling out a new product idea, you have multiple ways of conducting a concept test survey. Here are the four primary methods.
1. Monadic testing
Monadic testing, also known as a single concept evaluation, asks survey respondents to provide feedback on one product idea, marketing message, or visual concept. The process is simple: Respondents are shown a concept and they offer their opinions, including whether they’d be inclined to buy.
2. Comparison testing
In comparison testing, surveyors ask respondents to compare multiple concepts and share their thoughts on each and relative to one another. Also called comparative testing, this survey method lets businesses evaluate their product concepts head-to-head, which can help you decide how to use limited resources for the ideas that are most likely to succeed.
3. Sequential monadic testing
Sequential monadic testing asks respondents to evaluate several concepts at a time. While comparison testing pits multiple concepts against each other (with presumably only one concept winning out), sequential monadic testing lets you test unrelated concepts using the same survey group.
To set up a sequential monadic test, randomly break the survey group into cohorts, and have each cohort test each concept, one at a time. Ultimately, everyone surveyed will have tested all of your concepts.
4. Proto-monadic testing
The proto-monadic research method involves a mixture of comparison tests and sequential monadic tests. Survey questions may ask respondents to evaluate one concept at a time and then compare those concepts. This model lets you survey all respondents about all the concepts you wish to test.
How can you use concept testing?
You can use concept testing methods to test ideas about products or services, marketing campaigns or messages, or even your overall brand.
- Products and services. Concept testing lets you gauge public response to a planned product or service. The results can help you decide to move forward with these products or services, release them to limited markets, tweak the concepts, or scrap them altogether.
- Marketing and advertising. You can use concept testing to evaluate your advertising strategy and figure out what marketing messages click with your target audience. One example is a logo testing survey, which asks people what they think about your logo idea.
- Brands. Brand testing that evaluates the public’s overall perceptions of your brand or business is a form of concept testing.
How to set up a good concept test
- Establish a clear objective for your test
- Select a testing methodology
- Find a representative population sample
- Use random selection
- Evaluate the results
Here are the steps when designing and executing your test to ensure an effective concept testing survey.
1. Establish a clear objective for your test
First, decide which variables to test, whether it’s a marketing message, a product or service idea, or a brand identity. Then establish what you want to learn about it. For instance, a company that makes vacuum cleaners might test whether users would appreciate a fast-charging cordless model that costs more than its plug-in models. A car rental company might test a marketing campaign that emphasizes its fleet of electric vehicles appeals to business travelers. Deciding on the objective will make the survey more focused and ensure that your business gets the feedback it needs so that the final product is more likely to succeed.
2. Select a testing methodology
Choose a methodology—monadic testing, comparison testing, sequential monadic testing, or proto-monadic testing—that best aligns with the scope of your concept testing. If you’re running your first concept test, it might be wise to keep things simple with a standard monadic test. If you’re testing a complex system of related concepts, a sequential monadic test or proto-monadic test may fit better.
3. Find a representative population sample
Your test groups should reflect your potential customers. After all, a survey group made up of retirees does little good if you’re testing athletic gear you want to sell to high school football teams. You could screen test groups by using demographic survey questions.
4. Use random selection
If you need to divide your testing population into smaller groups, do so using random selection. That will ensure the profile of the test group is a close approximation of your target market.
5. Evaluate the results
A successful concept test will provide data about how people responded to your business idea. The data may confirm your expectations for your products and services, or it may contradict them. A good researcher respects the results of a concept test, even if they weren’t what they anticipated. When one concept outperforms others in a test, that’s your cue to lean into that promising concept.
Concept testing FAQ
Does concept testing guarantee the success of a product or service?
No, nothing guarantees the success of a product or service. But concept testing improves your odds, giving you information about an idea’s potential to succeed. If you’ve done it correctly, testing should yield relevant information about how the public perceives your product or service. That can help you decide whether it’s worthy of a full-scale launch, needs refinement, or doesn’t make sense to pursue further.
How can you ensure your concept testing is reliable and accurate?
Select a test population that demographically represents your target market. Once you select your test group and pose questions, let them answer without steering them. You’ll get the most unbiased answers that way. Make sure you don’t editorialize as you record their feedback.
Is concept testing a one-time process, or should it be conducted regularly?
Many companies make concept testing a constant part of their product development process, as far as money and resources allow. It can help you decide whether to develop a product or campaign, and if so, how. Concept testing can save you money in the long run because it prevents you from overinvesting in products and services that will never find a viable market.