© 2016-2019 by Surveys & Forecasts, LLC

Ideation & Creation

A common interpretation of a concept is simply an ‘idea’. Surveys & Forecasts believes that, in its optimal form, a concept goes well beyond the statement of an idea. A concept must communicate a compelling end-benefit -- or a solution to a problem -- in language that a consumer can understand, internalize, and relate to emotionally.

If the definition of marketing is the process of an exchange between an interested buyer and seller, then the concept becomes the "common ground" on which they make the exchange. For purposes of this note, S&F distinguishes between concepts designed for basic concept screening tests, versus traditional concepts used in concept testing (which collects more complete information on each idea). This may seem like research semantics, but both the format of the concepts and the interpretation of the results in each situation differ significantly:

  • In concept screening, the research objective is to help marketing management identify potential winning ideas from a broader pool of candidates. Usually the starting point is large, perhaps with 20-25 ideas or more. As such, the screening process and concept communication must be fast and efficient, and typically involves the exposure of multiple ideas to each respondent who sees them in a randomized sequential exposure design. Because the primary objective is to screen out the few ‘good’ from the many ‘bad’ ideas, concepts for screening tests are constructed differently from traditional concepts. Typically they:

  • Are a maximum of 3-4 very brief, pithy sentences (and can be as short as a single sentence);

  • Immediately and factually state the problem, usage situation, or need;

  • Factually state the benefit, solution, or need-satisfaction provided by the product or service;

  • May or may not include pricing, dosing, SKUs, branding, and packaging information, and may or may not include a basic visual (black and white line drawing). For completeness, we recommend all of the above, but time and budgets may limit this.

  • Close with any secondary benefit, if it exists;

 

Other factors to keep in mind when implementing concept screening programs (and writing concepts for them):

  • Because the goal is to screen, diagnostic information (information on why the concept succeeded or failed) is minimal – typically 5-7 measures are asked per idea in a concept screen. Elaborate concepts may actually detract from appeal.

  • Common physical sizes for these types of concepts are half-sheet (8½" x 5½") and full-sheet (8½" x 11"). Visuals, if relevant, are rarely more than ½ sheet in size, and may show an in-use sequence if integral to the idea (e.g., before/after portrayal);

  • Concept format/layout must be identical in each test and, longer-term, across multiple tests (otherwise, state of finish/format issues confound historical test interpretation).

  • The inclusion of control concepts in concept screens is highly recommended;

  • The most critical factor in an ongoing concept screening program is consistency – consistency of concept format, respondent screening, geographical representation, and the survey instrument itself. Changes over time nullify test-retest comparability.

  • Concepts can be existing products, new stand-alone ideas, flankers, line extensions, or new uses/re-positionings;

 

Of note, concept screening tends to work best in ‘rational’, left-brain types of categories. It may be a less useful, discriminating research tool in highly image-driven categories (e.g., fragrances, cosmetics), or in categories that do not have an underlying functionality that can be conveyed via the written word or in a brief format.

  • In concept testing, the research focus shifts away from a pure screening process to one of fine-tuning and optimizing one or more of the potential winning ideas. Typically, concepts have been through a round of qualitative research to help put "flesh on the bones" of those ideas that showed promise in earlier screening work. Now the objective is to (1) identify a lead horse and (2) obtain diagnostic information as to why, or why it is not, succeeding. Traditionally, concept testing is done monadically, in which each respondent sees just one idea and, when testing multiple ideas, each concept occupies its own cell. Traditional concepts have all the characteristics of concepts written for concept screens, but differ as follows:

  • They are longer, but still written to be no more than can be realistically conveyed in a 30-second television spot.

  • While they must also quickly and factually state the problem, usage situation, or need, they can elaborate on them in somewhat greater detail;

  • The benefit, solution, or need-satisfaction process provided by the product or service must still be the primary (and reiterated) communication point.

  • Common format: a bold type headline at the top, a visual comprising up to ½ of the page, body copy describing the problem-solution, and a tag line which reiterates the benefit;

  • Full concepts always include pricing, dosing, SKUs, branding, and packaging information, and a detailed color visual (C-print or color photocopy) of the actual product, either by itself or shown in-use;

 

Some additional considerations for creating traditional concepts and testing them (some are similar to concept screening):

  • Physical sizes for concepts are rarely less than full-sheet (8½" x 11"), and often extend to large boards mounted on foam-core (although this is may be overkill). More sophisticated layout/graphics alone do not improve concept performance.

  • The concept format must be identical within a test pool and, longer-term, is recommended across multiple tests. However, since the ideas have already passed a basic litmus test in screening, the inclusion of control concepts is not always needed;

  • The critical factor in concept testing over time is consistency – concept format, screening specs, geography, and the survey instrument should stay the same.

  • As in screening, concepts can be existing products, new stand-alone ideas, flankers, line extensions, or new uses/re-positionings;

 

These are general guidelines from Surveys & Forecasts: the specifics of a category, and the information needs of management, must ultimately dictate the type of concept testing and, in turn, concept format.