The good, the bad and the could be better


When I first started in research concept testing was, in my opinion, one of the most exciting parts of research. The ideas came thick and fast; what was the next big thing? Or even smallish thing? How do we find it? Where can our brand go? There was excitement, enthusiasm and many, many ideas.

You just never knew what might be coming along next from even the most conservative clients.  As well as some safer line extensions along the way (which is good, to keep consumers ticking along, feeling like your brand/ product is an active participant in the category), most clients thought out of the box, sometimes out of the box and across the road – pushing boundaries was the name of the game.

But things have changed. Now we’re very lucky to have ideas pass our desk that we haven’t seen either currently in the shops, from another brand, or seen before in a previous guise that just hasn’t moved on.

Where have the boundary pushing ideas gone?

Is it because many marketers are fearful for their roles and want to consider ideas that are ‘bankers’; ideas that will do OK, or even well for a few years and save the shelf space for another similar idea along the line? Or is it that marketing is just not as creative as it was, and is now led by ‘what we can do’ rather than ‘what could we do’? We really hope not.

So, what can we do as researchers do help our clients feel inspired again and brave enough to try really new ideas with consumers?

Connect and Explore

One of the first steps, which sounds obvious, but is essential, is to connect with your consumers, spend time understanding who they are. And we don’t just mean your bullseye target; we also mean the everyday users of your brands, products and category. It may surprise you to learn who they are… and indeed who they are not.  This kind of exploratory research, we have found, is increasing and is wider in scope.  More clients are seeking to reconnect with their consumers (to actually meet them!) and understand how many, who, what, where, when & why. This initial stage needs to be … inspiring for clients, bringing together possibilities and sparks of ideas to form into new product ideas.

Doing this takes marketing expertise, as well as the skill of the research agency to make it happen –a flat set of figures or another group discussion in just doesn’t cut it.

We aren’t looking for imitation; we need Inspiration -> creation -> innovation.

Ideas – which ones?

After all that inspiration, ideally we start this stage with lots of ideas. Of course there is always the concern of how much it might cost to understand ALL these ideas and which ones should be prioritised. There are numerous ways of quickly and cheaply screening ideas online, key metrics should not differ between different systems, it’s what you ask around the edges and the experience of the research agency you use which help you successfully move you to the next stage.

Whatever system you choose, ensure it will help you develop the ‘mid placed’ ideas – we have found that’s often where the gems are, those ideas that aren’t quite there…yet. The most successful ideas we have evaluated over the years almost never start as fully finished ‘got it in one’ concepts.

The best ideas made better

By the time we are at this stage we will probably have fewer than five ideas to progress – but more likely two or three.

This is when you have the opportunity to use all the knowledge banked and developed over the previous stages to make your ideas really eye-catching – something different that hits a decent sized consumer need bang on. Using vocal consumers and a creative process allows clients to be in the centre of concept development (and that is not just marketing, but product development, sales, pack designers, ad agencies et al; this combination makes the most powerful concepts). Here we need to ensure that any stumbling blocks and areas where there is less clarity are overcome, together, (consumers and client teams) to create a concept, pack, flavours, formats, packages/ and bundles that are best in class.

And finally…knowing what to expect in market; be prepared

Often clients need and want consumers to test the whole package – idea, product and packaging blended with the marketing/ promotions and the likely levels of spend when launched. A volumetric product test can get you there.  It is all about the experience of the agency to guide marketing tactics, and final tweaks of the concept and detailed breakdowns of the products, it’s these final preparations that can make the difference between a great launch and a damp squib.

Author: Marie Sutton (

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