I recently received a survey from a trade association exploring my interest in online marketing research courses, which I assume they are planning to offer. I was a little surprised to see the simplistic concept test approach they used to explore not only my interest, but also the price points at which I may be willing to buy one of their courses.
Concept testing is a very valid approach to mesure appeal of product and services, but when it is not well designed, this type of research tends to yield general information that is not strong and granular enough to support decision making.
The first step in concept tests is to develop product concepts that clearly describe the “reasons-to-believe” in the product and touch on the experience the customer may have with it. The best source for good product concept descriptions is the potential customer himself. This is a case, where exploratory qualitative market research can bring a lot of value by uncovering what it is important to customers and what language they use to talk about the product. I wonder if the trade association that sponsored the aforementioned survey did its homework in trying to identify what features are really important to potential end-users of the product being tested.
The image below is a snapshot of how the concept was presented in the online survey. Of the four features described in the concept, the only one I found appealing is the 24/7 accessibility. The other three are quite vague and somewhat irrelevant. What does it matter if the courses will have 3 to 8 hours of total instruction if I don’t know the length of each class or module? Is it 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes? My work schedule and home life may only allow me to sit for 20 minutes at a time to attend an online class.
I quite frankly don’t know what they mean by “comprehensive instructions.” Are the classes task-oriented, will I need to do a lot in preparation to take the class? I associate the word “instructions” to manuals, so when I read this I feel weary already. Who has the time to read manuals nowadays?
“Dynamic interfaces” doesn’t tell me much either. A more concrete example would have helped to set my expectations. The image they use doesn’t have any indications of what the dynamic changes may occur. Without any guidance, my expectations could be too high, which can lead to a big disappointment if the courses are not on par with my notions of what a dynamic interface is in this context. A short video tutorial showing how this will work would have provided a better illustration of what the user can expect from the interface.
The most important feature of all for the target audience (which I represent) is the actual course topic and this is absent from the product concept. You may say, well, there are many topics of interest and we only want to test interest in the format. To which I would respond that the format is irrelevant if the topic is not of interest. The approach followed here doesn’t really reflect how the end-user thinks about this product. If topic is the most important feature in buying an online class, then excluding it creates an artificial product concept to which is difficult to give an accurate answer. When they asked if I would be interested in these courses, I could only say “might or might not.”
If you are going to conduct meaningful product concept tests:
- Conduct qualitative research with members of the target audience. Avoid “inbred” concepts based only on input from internal staff – A few interviews with marketing research professionals would have provided a richer and more realistic foundation on which to base the concept for online marketing research courses.
- Create concepts that are concrete and put them in relevant contexts – An online course on a particular topic would have allowed me to give a more realistic response. A video could have shown me what to expect from the ”dynamic interface.”
- Write concepts in the target audience’s language – No “instructions” please!
- Focus on Reasons-to-Believe arguments that highlight what is important to your audience – I need more than 24/7 accessibility to assess the value of this service. Topics are a good start.
This survey also attempted to measure price points that end-users are willing to pay for the online courses. I don’t think the pricing research approach they used gives the association the most bang for their buck, but that’s the subject of another article.
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