Concept testing

Concept testing is the process of using quantitative methods and qualitative methods to evaluate consumer response to a product idea prior to the introduction of a product to the market. It can also be used to generate communication designed to alter consumer attitudes toward existing products. These methods involve the evaluation by consumers of product concepts having certain rational benefits, such as "a detergent that removes stains but is gentle on fabrics," or non-rational benefits, such as "a shampoo that lets you be yourself." Such methods are commonly referred to as concept testing and have been performed using field surveys, personal interviews and focus groups, in combination with various quantitative methods, to generate and evaluate product concepts.

The concept generation portions of concept testing have been predominantly qualitative. Advertising professionals have generally created concepts and communications of these concepts for evaluation by consumers, on the basis of consumer surveys and other market research, or on the basis of their own experience as to which concepts they believe represent product ideas that are worthwhile in the consumer market.

The quantitative portions of concept testing procedures have generally been placed in three categories:

(1) concept evaluations, where concepts representing product ideas are presented to consumers in verbal or visual form and then quantitatively evaluated by consumers by indicating degrees of purchase intent, likelihood of trial, etc.,
(2) positioning, which is concept evaluation wherein concepts positioned in the same functional product class are evaluated together, and
(3) product/concept tests, where consumers first evaluate a concept, then the corresponding product, and the results are compared.

Shortcomings of traditional concept testing

Traditionally, concept testing has been inadequate as a means to identify and quantify the criteria upon which consumer preference of one concept over another was based. These methods were insufficient to ascertain the relative importance of the factors responsible for or governing why consumers, markets and market segments reacted differently to concepts presented to them in the concept tests. Without such information, market researchers and advertisers, with their expertise, could generalize, on the basis of a concept test, as to how consumers might react to the actual products or to variations of the tested concepts. Communication of the concept, as embodied in a new product, has generally been left to the creativity of the advertising agency. No systematic quantitative method was known, however, which could accurately identify the criteria on which the consumer choices were based and the contribution or importance of each criterion to the purchase decision. Therefore, previous concept testing methods have failed to provide market researchers with the complete information necessary for them to create products specifically tailored to satisfy a consumer group balance of purchase criteria.

Moreover, traditional concept testing methods have failed to accurately quantify the relationships between consumer response to concepts and consumer choice of existing products which compete in the same consumer market. Thus, they were unable to provide a communication of the benefits of a consumer product, closely representing the tested concept, to a high degree of accuracy.

These problems of concept testing have been identified in business and marketing journals. For example, in Moore, William L., Concept Testing, Journal of Business Research 10, 279-294 (1982), a literature survey and review of concept testing methodology, it is pointed out that concept tests have failed to account for changes between the concept tested and the communication describing the benefits of the product which embodies the concept. The Moore article reports that "no amount of improvement in current concept testing practices can remedy these problems." This is reflective of the fact that none of the traditional methods provided a quantitative means for ascertaining the relative importance of the underlying criteria of concept choices as a means for identifying the visual and verbal expressions of the concepts which best communicate the benefits sought by the consumer. Nor did the traditional methods quantify the relationships between concepts and existing products offered in the same consumer market. The ability of a method to ameliorate or overcome the above shortcomings would provide substantial improvement in communication of the concepts identified in testing and offered to the market as a product.

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