A Great Concept Is a Focused Concept

Red folded baby among white folded paper

When it comes to getting feedback on your ideas and optimizing for product development and shopper marketing, there’s maybe nothing more important than crafting your concept. Concept testing is your chance to gather the consumer insights necessary to determine any opportunities for improvements, changes, or optimization that will help to ensure your idea resonates with your target audience and meets customers’ expectations. In her book Marketing Concepts that Win, self-proclaimed “Concept Queen” Martha Guidry notes that one of the most common problems she sees with concepts is that they lack focus: they include too many benefits and features, most of which are bound to land with research participants, but fail to make a memorable impact on the shelf. Guidry explains that the problem with these concepts is that they blur the line between what she calls core idea concepts and positioning concepts.

Core Idea versus Positioning

The reason why concepts become so unfocused is that they try to accomplish too much. In order to ensure that your concept testing group will be able to understand and appropriately respond to your stimulus, your concept must have a clear purpose for which it can be evaluated. Guidry contends that there are two main kinds of concepts, each with a specific goal:

  • A core idea concept simply describes the product or service. It doesn’t try to sell any benefits to the potential buyer, but it does highlight some of the features the product or service offers. Its main purpose is to determine whether the idea is of interest to potential customers.
  • A positioning concept is more marketing-minded: its purpose is to sell the benefits of the product or service to a potential buyer. The positioning concept must tap into real consumer beliefs that provide a relevant context for the product idea.

Unfortunately, Guidry reports that 9 out of 10 concepts she reviews blur the line between these two purposes. So the first step is to decide whether your purpose is to measure interest in the idea, or to see if you can sell potential customers on the concept’s primary benefit.

No More “Kitchen Sink” Concepts

Selling benefits can quickly degenerate into an unfocused concept, listing every potential benefit the product may have and all its features. A concept only has a few seconds to make an impression on a respondent, and consumers won’t be able to remember a whole laundry list of benefits. In fact, it’s most likely that they will only remember one.

These “kitchen sink” concepts are actually somewhat of a red herring. A concept with something for everyone may test well, but it won’t perform well in the market: its positioning will be too muddied to take hold in the mind of potential customers. As we like to say in the research industry, “garbage in, garbage out.”

If you think you’ve fallen into the kitchen sink (pun intended), here are two paths to getting out:

1. If the benefits you’ve listed are similar enough, you may be able to roll them up into one elevated benefit. Here’s a concept with too many benefits:

“Brand Z hand lotion minimizes age spots, reduces lines, and leaves your hands soft and smooth.”

Here’s the same concept with one benefit that raises the emotional connection while implying the more pragmatic benefits:

“Brand Z hand lotion gives you younger-looking hands.”

2. If the benefits don’t have much in common, try splitting your concept into several different ones, each stressing just a single benefit, and mentioning only those features that support that benefit.

Focus for Success

Guidry’s views on concept testing align pretty nicely with the advantages of agile market research. In her book, she elaborates on the value of employing “iterative qualitative research” to begin testing one benefit and then adding in other elements, one at a time, testing phase by testing phase. Building the full concept from iterative feedback ensures that each element is clear, logical, and relevant before you add in extra information. Consumers are always looking out for their reason to believe, which can make focusing on the rest of the concept all at once pretty difficult. It’s therefore imperative that your audience first understand this primary benefit and value-driver before you start introducing additional selling points.

Taking the time to conduct iterative concept testing and narrowly focus on whatever benefit will accomplish the clear, specific purpose of your concept will help you better communicate product value to your target audience, thus helping your chances of ultimately succeeding in market. For an example of how different concept purposes can affect consumer interpretations of value, check out the report summary below, detailing respondents’ reactions to taglines meant to convey sustainability.

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