Before a new drug is launched, a new variety of cereal is manufactured and stocked on grocery shelves, or a new television sitcom is produced, each of these new market entries will, ideally, go through multiple phases of concept or product testing with the target market, or markets, for the product. And just as some approaches to the conduct of Awareness, Trial, and Usage (ATU) research or Pricing Sensitivity research are more effective than others, there are also ways of constructing concept or product testing that will yield richer, more reliable findings.
Concept testing is, ideally, done in an iterative fashion. That is, it is conducted in several different phases, with the construction of the questionnaire used for each phase – i.e., the specific survey focus, question content, and prelisted questionnaire response options for each phase - informed by the results of the earlier phases. At its core, concept testing research should work toward determining the degree to which a desired behavior would be prompted by the product/service under consideration, within the target market for that product/service. For instance, with a cereal, the desired behavior would be consumers’ purchase of the product; for a new prescription drug, the desired behavior would be physician prescribing; and, for a television sitcom, the desired behavior would be viewing the program by those who watch television.
Often, however, even the client company isn’t entirely sure what its end-product will “look like” in even a basic sense. For example, your client, a cereal manufacturer, may know that they wish to introduce a new line of cornflakes, but they may not know exactly what will differentiate this new product line from the cornflakes that are already stocked on grocery shelves. This client may be considering both chocolate-flavored cornflakes and peanut butter-flavored cornflakes, but their objective may be to launch only one new flavor at the present time. So if there are several similar products under consideration (e.g., a chocolate-flavored cornflake versus a peanut butter-flavored cornflake), the first step, or iteration, of concept or product testing research should focus on determining which of the products under consideration would be welcomed most enthusiastically by its target market.
As you begin to design your questionnaire, keep in mind that the more incremental the data it yields, the better. Rather than approaching this issue from a yes/no perspective (“Would you be likely to purchase a peanut butter-flavored cornflake cereal?”), you will gain much more valuable data by asking respondents to rate their likelihood of purchasing the cereal using a seven- or ten-point rating scale; if there are more than two different versions of the new product that are being considered, you can also ask respondents to rank order their preference, to see if and how closely average ratings and rankings correlate. The more discriminating your data is, the more confidence you can have that you’ll wind up with a final list of overall concepts that will receive a positive reception in the marketplace.
At this initial stage of concept testing, you (optimally) shouldn’t be testing much else other than the “big picture” concept, e.g., “How likely would you be to purchase a peanut butter-flavored cornflake cereal?” You might delve into a few specifics that would help your client better define the parameters of the basic product or service, aside from the question of overall interest – “How likely would you be to purchase peanut butter-flavored cornflakes if they were higher in protein than regular cornflakes/ lower in sugar versus regular cornflakes/manufactured in fair trade countries/gluten free?” – but the primary objective of the initial phase of concept testing should be, ideally, to identify reactions to the basic product among its target audience.
At this early stage of testing potential new product or service concepts, it’s critical to remember that respondents may not convey a clear preference for one of the options that your client is considering. For this reason, you’ll need to allow for three other scenarios as you construct your questionnaire:
For this phase of research, as well as each subsequent phase, you’ll need to screen potential respondents to ensure that they fall into the potential market for your client’s product. Using our “new cereal concept” example, you would probably not want to include people who don’t currently eat any cereal, or those who are allergic to peanuts, in your survey. Prescreening is always important in market research, but in concept testing it’s particularly critical; it’s way too easy to erroneously skew results and recommendations if you include a subgroup of respondents who would never, ever give the proposed product or service serious consideration.
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