Categorized | Concepting and Testing

Bringing Your Product to Market 4.4. Concepting and Testing

4.4. Concepting and Testing

In the concepting phase, you convert your idea to a full description. In this phase, you define all your product attributes, features, parts, size, weight, price, packaging, distribution channels, and promotions―as much as you can flesh out about what your end product actually will be and what it will look like when the customer buys it. You now have a production description and a list of attributes that you can use to get customer feedback on.

A product concept is essentially a description of the product or service you’re going to produce. This concept will serve as the model from which you generate the physical product and its marketing. Since the product doesn’t yet exist, you have to define it clearly enough so that people can understand what it is without looking at it.

There are several ways to go about this, but all good product concepts do the following:

  • Existing examples―list one or two products similar to yours and then how your product surpasses them.
  • Example improvements―focus on one existing example and specific improvements you’re making to that example.
  • Specifications―list the attributes of your product. If there are no existing examples of your product―your idea is totally new―this is the only concepting strategy available to you.

New product attributes include:

  • Usability―function, maintenance, benefits
  • Safety―breakability, toxicity, fire hazard
  • Aesthetics and Meaning―how your product looks and the symbolic meaning of your product
  • Cost and price―how much the product costs to make and to buy
  • Manufacturing―what it takes to make the product, especially raw materials (i.e., made from brushed steel, etc.)
  • Marketing―how you’re going to sell the product (sometimes marketing is the only thing new about a product; for instance, you’re going to sell pizzas over the Internet is a marketing innovation on pizzas)

Since you’re on a budget, you can’t commit the hundreds of thousands of dollars that corporations often spend on testing concepts. But you can find reasonable substitutes. New product development usually involves surveys rather than focus groups. These surveys test two primary attitudes among targeted consumers:

  • Is the respondent interested in this product?
  • Would the respondent buy it?

In marketing research, these attitudes are called interest and intent. They are obviously both important, but intent looms very large in your calculations. Sometimes a concept survey will also measure awareness, such as how aware respondents are of the main brand.

There are a variety of ways of testing interest and intent, but the standard measure uses some sort of scale. So interest might be measured on a scale of Highly Interested to Interested to Neither Interested or Disinterested to Disinterested to Highly Disinterested. Professional marketing researchers pay particular attention to the very top of the scale (people who rank interest and intent using the highest possible rank) and the bottom of the scale (people who evince no interest or intent). In general, people who evince some kind of interest or intent, but don’t feel this interest or intent very strongly, don’t tell you much about how well the product will sell. More than one corporation has lost tons of money mistaking moderate interest and intent for a money-making product!

Surveys also measure what features and benefits consumers want. If you’re selling pizza, you want to know what features and benefits customers want the most. Do they want cheap? Good taste? Easy or fast to cook? A huge choice of toppings? Lots of cheese? Low calorie? You want to know if customers are willing to sacrifice one attribute for another. For instance, let’s say you offer a huge choice of toppings, but your pizza is expensive. If price is the most important thing to your consumer and they don’t care about topping choice, they’re not going to buy your pizza. On the other hand, if consumers rank topping choice as the number one thing they’re looking for in a pizza and rank price as the lowest thing they care about, you’re in the money!

Doing marketing surveys requires a pretty good working knowledge of how to write questions so as not to bias the results as well as more than a good working knowledge of statistical analysis. But don’t give up! If you want to conduct your own surveys and don’t want to pay through the nose―or learn damnable statistics―you can follow a few sane rules:

  • For a semblance of statistical validity, make sure you survey at least thirty people.
  • The more randomly you pick your survey subjects, the more reliable your results will be, i.e., the more your results will actually look like the way consumers will behave. If you pick only friends and relatives, you’re not getting reliable data.
  • If you get numbers that are close, consider them to be identical. If you have big spreads in numbers, then you’re on to something. Let’s say 45% of your survey respondents like your product and 55% don’t. Consider those numbers to be 50/50, unless you’re surveying hundreds of people. If 75% like your product and 25% don’t, you’re in the money!
  • When you ask a question on a survey, make sure it doesn’t bias the response. For instance, “Would you buy the best can opener ever made?” has only one rational answer.
  • On a survey question, don’t ask two questions, like “Would you buy a carpet cleaner that is both quiet and cheap?” What if I want to buy cheap but don’t care about quiet? My answer to your question is “No.”
  • Measuring features and attributes work best when you ask survey respondents to rank what’s important to them. So you might list ten features or benefits that your product might have and respondents have to rank them one to ten.
  • Make sure you get some demographic data about your survey respondents: age, geographic location, size of family, profession, and so on. This helps you determine your target market more exactly.

Obviously, doing surveys requires far more knowledge and skills than these general rules can supply you, which is why market research people make the big bucks. But, obviously, you can do your own surveys to get some idea as to where you stand with your product. Your studies won’t be rigorous, but at least you’ll have more knowledge than you did before you tested your concept.

4.4.1. Arteology: Developing an Industrial Product

Our normal operating principle in this book is to select easy-to-use and easy-to-read resources, but the whole field of product concept development and testing is highly specialized. Of all the steps in new product development, it is the most important and the one that entrepreneurs almost always skip.

Arteology is a very specialized site for conducting research when developing a new product. It assumes an audience familiar with MBA-talk or engineering jargon. So it might be a bit of a slog for a general audience. However, it is the most thorough, step-by-step instruction on how corporations go about developing, concepting, researching, engineering, and testing a new product. Most valuable to you are a set of pages describing the attributes each product must have, such as usability, beauty, safety, manufacturing, and so on. The site provides tools for understanding these attributes and describing them for your product. It also describes the kinds of research you need to answer some of your product questions.

I have found their section on how to evaluate and critique a product concept invaluable. Since I am naturally cautious, I want to make sure that product or service ideas are raked over the coals before committing to them.

4.4.2. Zoomerang

The easiest and cheapest way to get survey data is through the Web. There are many Web survey outfits and they usually charge from $500 to $40,000 to conduct an online survey for you. These online survey companies not only provide the means to put together and distribute a survey, but they also have proprietary lists or panels of people willing to take your survey. They “rent” those lists to you for your survey; that list rental represents most if not all of the charges they bill you.

Zoomerang was one of the first and has the largest list of potential respondents (2.5 million people), but it’s a premium service that may be out of your range. You pay a yearly fee ($599 per year, 40% off for non-profits), you construct your own surveys, and you “rent” responses from their large consumer panel (minimum charge is $500 for 100 responses). You don’t have to use their panel; you could, for instance, put up your own survey and phone up friends or put an ad in Craig’s List.

Zoomerang’s large base of respondents means that you can get a good, statistically valid response from highly targeted, highly defined groups. You can define your target survey group using over 500 different characteristics. So if you absolutely require a highly targeted, statistically valid sample, you may want to invest the money in a Zoomerang survey.

Like all online survey companies, Zoomerang offers a suite of analysis tools to help you interpret data. Unless you’re willing to get serious about statistics, you’ll probably find yourself just analyzing basic frequencies (what percentage of people answered a question in a particular way) and cross-tabulations (what percentage of people who answered question A in a particular way answered question B in a particular way, i.e., how many people who prefer hamburgers eat at Burger King?).

4.4.3. QuestionPro

QuestionPro is a budget online survey service. While using Zoomerang might set you back thousands of dollars per year―which is far better than the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to do telephone, fax, or mall surveys―QuestionPro can be as cheap as “free.” The site has a tiered membership; the lowest membership, which allows two surveys and one hundred responses per month, can be had for free. The higher memberships (Web Pro — $15 per month; Corporate — $249 per month; Enterprise — $849 per month) allow unlimited surveys and responses. To make life easier for you, QuestionPro allows you to use their list of consumer respondents for free (you will, however, have to pay for business or technical respondents). So if you just need to do some down and dirty concept tests, QuestionPro offers the cheapest solution (free) outside of making your own Web survey on your hosting service. QuestionPro also offers the standard analytical tools for trying to tease meaning out of the survey responses.

QuestionPro also offers a rich set of resources on how to put together your survey, narrow your target respondent audience, and interpret the results without having to learn fancy statistical tests. Resources include:

  • Steps in Preparing an Online Survey
  • 10 Easy Ways to Increase Response Rates
  • Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Your First Online Survey
  • Survey Design―Writing Great Questions for Online Surveys
  • Survey Questions and Answer Types
  • Survey Analysis―How To
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