Product design and development is an exploratory process, and one that often involves a number of tests, changes of direction, refinements and additions along the way. It’s important to embrace that non-linear journey and allow your idea the time and space to evolve into the best possible outcome.
But at the same time, you need to be able to determine whether you’re heading in the right direction and moving towards a result that will make business sense and deliver a financial return for the investment you’re putting in.
Product development is cyclical, which means that each stage you go through on the way to market – ideation, prototyping, product testing, message testing and more – may be revisited more than once as you iterate towards a result that works.
In this blog post, we’re zooming in on the concept testing phase of your product development journey, exploring how to evaluate and refine the different aspects of your product concept so that you can move from a theoretical idea to hands-on reality.
Where do product concepts come from?
The idea for a product can come from a range of sources. Maybe the customer feedback clearly points to a gap in the product range and an appetite for a new product. Maybe competitors are solving a problem that you haven’t addressed but that your existing customer base cares about. Maybe it’s intuitive – people within your business can see an obvious application for certain skills, production capabilities or areas of knowledge where potential isn’t yet being fulfilled.
When a product idea emerges in this way, it needs to be clarified and sharpened up into something that can be proposed to potential customers with a product concept test.
This first stage of development is an internal one, and it’s a chance to bring in as many people’s expertise and perspective as possible. Show and discuss your product concept with partners and co-workers who can offer you perspectives on your idea.
This might include product managers, business analysts, marketers, designers and usability professionals, engineers, customer experience teams, and also people from any department who best approximate your end-user. (For example if you’re designing a product for parents, seek plenty of feedback from colleagues with young children.)
This early feedback can help you assess your idea in terms of:
- Revenue potential
- Customer appeal
- Similarity to other things on the market
- Market niche
It’s possible that after doing this, you’ll find a problem with your product concept that means it’s not possible to take it further. Although it might feel disappointing, this is actually a good thing.
It means you’ve saved the time and expense of doing external testing on an idea that wouldn’t work out, and ultimately saved the business from investing in a product that would be unlikely to be commercially successful.
Try a product concept statement
To circulate and share your idea, you might choose to work up a product concept statement. This is a short, easy to digest summary of your idea that covers:
- what it is
- how it might be realized
- the goals or benefits it will deliver
Product concept statements can also be useful later in the product development journey, and of course, they can be edited and adapted over time – although it’s important always to keep them short and sweet.
Here’s an example product concept statement from a sports bottle manufacturer:
Concept: A one-piece infant drinking cup that won’t spill or break open when dropped.
Approach: Explore resilient materials and construction that are drop-proof and easy to grip and lift for small children’s hands. Leverage existing valve designs for anti-spillage mouthpiece.
Goals: Offer convenience and peace of mind to parents whose children frequently throw or drop their cups on the floor. Durable, long-life product is likely to appeal to parents who want to avoid plastic waste.
Concept testing: what and how
Concept testing explores your product idea in-depth, using feedback from a real audience collected through market research surveys.
The starting point for concept testing is to develop a product concept stimulus that explains your idea in a nutshell so that respondents understand what it is and what it does. It should include an image (where appropriate) and a bullet list of features and benefits.
For example, returning to the example idea of a drink bottle for toddlers, here’s how your stimulus might look:
Spill-proof, drop-proof infant drinks bottle.
- Will not break open when dropped or thrown
- Anti-spill mouthpiece
- Dishwasher safe
- High-grade material, safe and durable
- Easy to grip
- 300ml capacity
- 5-year guarantee
Next, based on our experience of testing product concepts, we recommend a study that assesses:
“What is your overall impression of the product?”
Extremely positive / somewhat positive / neither positive nor negative / somewhat negative / extremely negative
Doing this gives you an indication of how well the product will stand out in the market.
“How new and different is this concept from other products currently available?”
Very different / Different / A little different / Not very different / Not at all different
This helps you determine if your concept is sufficiently different from what’s already out there for customers to want to buy it.
It helps measure the attractiveness of your concept and whether it can entice people to buy.
“How appealing is the concept compared to other products currently available?”
Very appealing / Appealing / A little appealing / Not very appealing / Not at all appealing
Gauges the respondents’ positive or negative emotional reactions to the concept.
“How much do you like or dislike this concept?”
Like it a great deal / Like somewhat / Neither like nor dislike / Dislike somewhat / Dislike a great deal
Explores how much the respondents trust the claims about the product.
“How believable is this concept?”
Extremely believable / Somewhat believable / Neither believable nor unbelievable / Somewhat unbelievable / Extremely unbelievable
Helps you understand if the product idea connects and aligns with the lives of your target market.
“How relevant is this concept to you personally?”
Extremely relevant / Somewhat relevant / Neither relevant nor irrelevant / Somewhat irrelevant / Extremely relevant
Assesses whether the product actually fills a needs gap for the customer (rather than just being something they might like to have).
“From the list below, which best describes your need for this concept?”
I need it because nothing else solves this problem / This would be slightly better than what I am currently using / This is essentially the same as what I am currently using / What I am currently using is better than this / I don’t see any reason to use this
Most and least-liked attributes
Helps you find the strengths and weaknesses of the product – including those you might not have been previously aware of. Note the open-ended question structure which allows the respondent free rein to describe what they’ve noticed.
“What do you like MOST about this concept?”
“What do you like LEAST about this concept?”
Likelihood to buy
Gives you an idea of whether the product would sell.
“How likely would you be to buy the product shown here?”
Extremely likely / Somewhat likely / Neither likely nor unlikely / Somewhat unlikely / Extremely unlikely
Indicates what the customer would be prepared to pay. Note that the question is asked in an open-ended format rather than asking the respondent to choose from a range. This avoids setting any expectations of upper or lower limit so you get a better understanding of the market rate.
“How much would you expect to pay for this product?”
The next steps
After running this questionnaire you will have a range of data on your concept that gives you a big-picture impression of its quality and suitability for further development.
You’ll also have the means to dig deeper into the data and find out which areas may benefit from fine-tuning or further research. Break down your results across the 10 categories above to see how the concept performed in each area. If you’re testing more than one concept, you can also use these criteria to measure concepts against each other on a like-for-like basis.
Parsing open field data – like the results you get from the pricing question, above – can be a challenge without the necessary tools, especially if your response volumes are high. Consider an AI-enabled tool like Qualtrics Text iQ to help sift natural language data and arrive at an overall understanding of the information it contains.
Get the full picture with Qualtrics Product XM
These are the basics, but there’s plenty more to think about when designing your product concept testing survey, including question order, sample size and selection, and how you analyze your results.