Why You Need Positioning Concept Testing in New Product Development

Summary: Knowing the difference between product and positioning concept testing is important to determine whether to test features or benefits. The insights resulting from each type of test are used to support different business decisions related to marketing and product development.

4 minutes to read. By author Michaela Mora on August 24, 2023
Topics: Concept Testing, New Product Development, Positioning Research

Product features vs. Product Benefits in Positioning Concept Testing

Customers don’t care about product features. They look for the benefits product features might offer. This applies to both physical and digital products and services.

The challenging part is that these are “perceived benefits.”

We can’t be sure of the perceived benefits of any product or service until we do primary qualitative and quantitative research with the target market for our product or service.

Product and marketing teams often decide which product features to push through the product development process based on assumptions about these benefits. Still, without research, they rarely know how customers or customer segments (there are always customer segments in any customer base) prioritize those benefits or the trade-offs they make in different purchase or use scenarios (there are always trade-offs).

Customers’ priorities change driven by situational factors, pricing strategy, access to distribution channels, competitors’ actions, advertising and promotional campaigns, social and cultural trends, and many other factors. The complexity of all the factors influencing benefit perceptions requires research designs that go beyond studying preferences for product features. 

Product Development & Marketing Connection

This is an area in which product research connects directly to marketing’s role in promoting products and services. Effective marketing messages focus on the most important benefit(s) customers or customer segments seek.

At the same time, we need to include product features that can deliver the benefits. 

When product and marketing teams don’t share a common understanding about the most important customer benefits, both teams often fail to deliver the desired business outcomes the company needs to grow or stay in business. Why?

  • Product teams focus on irrelevant product features.
  • Marketing teams send irrelevant or misleading messages.

In market research, we try to identify perceived benefits while doing positioning research, using qualitative and quantitative methods.

A frequently used quantitative method is positioning concept testing (often preceded by qualitative research).

Product Vs. Positioning Concept Testing

The difference between product and positioning concept testing is subtle but essential. Knowing that helps us set the proper test for the business objectives and saves time and money.

There are two main types of concept tests:

Product Concept Testing

This type of concept testing involves understanding reactions to the product or service descriptions, including its features (e.g., price, storage size, service hours, delivery times, various functionalities, etc.).

Product concept tests are helpful in product development and optimization to determine which features we should consider including in the product or service.

However, testing product features in a vacuum without context about the usage occasion and the benefits they bring provides limited insights into product adoption.

Positioning Concept Testing

In positioning concept testing, we explore how product features translate into benefits for the user and how users prioritize the benefits based on various factors. In other words, we study how the product or service meets the customer’s needs and what product features will support that benefit and make it believable.

For instance, a benefit from the latest computer model of a brand may be “increased productivity.” To support this benefit, the computer may include product features such as a large RAM (12MB) and the fastest processor to process data in minutes.

Positioning concept testing focuses on understanding what benefits matter most to customers and which product features support those benefits.

Once you have a list of product features, positioning concept testing can help prioritize which ones should move forward in the product development process.

Insights from positioning concept testing also help the marketing team craft the brand positioning and marketing strategy for the product or service.

Using benefit positioning as a guiding principle in product development allows us to match the brand promise with the user experience.

Why The Distinction Is Important

In positioning concept tests, results will depend, to a great extent, on how you write the concepts. Sometimes, clients mistake a product feature description for a product positioning based on one or more benefits, and test results are often disappointing.

Positioning concepts should reflect the product benefits and reasons for believing them. Therefore, you should involve your marketing team (or external agency if any) in the process. You need good copywriting for this.

Customers always favor clear and simple positioning messages. Too many benefits listed lead to choice overload and dilute a message’s effectiveness. If the product or service has several distinct advantages, test them separately to understand which has the highest traction.

Products and services often have distinct benefits that attract different customer segments. Hence, including a market segmentation study in the positioning research design is common in many research studies we conduct.

Assuming that the same benefit(s) motivates all customers equally is a typical mistake companies make. This leads to missed market opportunities and customer attrition.

In short, don’t make assumptions about the most appealing benefit(s) without proper research. Concept testing can help you grow your business beyond your expectations.

For more on how to design useful concept tests, check 6 Decisions To Make When Designing Product Concept Tests

(A version of this article was originally published on June 29, 2012, by the Dallas Business Journal. The article was last updated and revised on August 24, 2023.)