Product Concept Development and Testing: How to Design an Innovative Solution

innovation research and strategy 4
Grounding product development in foresight, empathy, and the customer experience will highlight product needs that should be addressed to become truly disruptive

Product concept development provides benchmark data for the evaluation and prioritization of new product development and decision-making. A primary goal for product concept development and testing is to rate, rank, and prioritize customers’ needs and wants to inform optimized innovation.

In the previous Innovation Research and Strategy article in partnership with Great Lakes GrowthWorks, we noted that a future market map can steer product concept development. Concept development and testing is a crucial phase in innovation research. A hybrid qualitative and quantitative approach can increase the odds of creating disruptive innovation and generating consumer uptake.

How to start product concept development

The product innovation process begins with a high-impact ideation session filled with stimulus, grounded both in consumer and customer insights, and disruption opportunity paths detailed in the future market map. Industry experts, creative exercises, and inspirational examples help spark a wide range of “seed” ideas. The key here is to take consumer insights – those “a ha” learnings from previous research – and ideate to address opportunities and identify:

  • A task where customers have expressed some dissatisfaction
  • Pain points that exist with existing products
  • What makes current offering(s) insufficient
  • Barriers in the current consumer journey
  • How the process or experience could be improved
  • Products in other sectors delivering better experiences
  • What features or benefits would improve user satisfaction and delight consumers

These initial ideas form the basis for more fully developed concepts that can be taken to the next level. Use these to conceptualize an ideal product/solution. Outline how the product could meet needs in a novel, cheaper, or better way. Drill down on benefits that resonate with buyers and reasons why they would believe the proposition. Compare the concept to any existing products in other markets that could be used to complete the task (a bit like reverse-engineering product diversification). Think infrared detectors … once used mainly for thermal cameras (seeing in the dark or detecting air leakage in buildings); then started to be used in handheld no-touch thermometers. Or propellants from things like spray paint cans that, through ideation, inspired the advent of the spray sunscreen category.

Once you’ve documented the product concept along with the features and benefits, it’s time to present it to a broader audience.

How to validate a product concept’s value

To build out initial product concepts with consumer input, start with qualitative co-creation research, Build-A-Concept. Iterating with actual target consumers can help move propositions through stages to more finished concepts. This work is critical to refine and qualitatively validate leading concepts, providing feedback for final optimization prior to quantitative testing. In focus group discussions, have consumers “match” benefits with each concept idea. Assess how each concept meets needs and leverages opportunities. Make refinements based upon their feedback to build final concepts collaboratively.

Additional focus group objectives could include to:

  • Gather opinions about alternative packaging configurations, systems, or concept components
  • Collect feedback on the labeling utilized on existing product(s) and packaging
  • Understand the pricing environment and sensitivity related to the concept and potential components
  • Uncover any other executional considerations

Lastly, compile all participant feedback, take any questions posed into consideration, and prioritize concepts for further testing.

To validate if the smaller focus group feedback applies to a larger audience, quantitative research should follow. Quantitative quick-action surveys can provide the insights needed to refine your product concept development faster. Quick-action surveys deliver confidence that the steps your team is taking match with customers’ expectations of your new product or service.

One of the primary goals of quantitative research is to develop a multidimensional scale of product needs utilizing the following metrics:

  • Importance of the product need – Martec often measures this by using the MaxDiff trade-off technique. MaxDiff (aka “best-worst scaling”) is an easy-to-use approach to determine the most preferred features for a product or service. This type of trade-off analysis can assess goodbetterbest situations for product concepts.
  • Satisfaction with concept performance relative to the product need – Often measured by using a 1 to 5 ordinal/Likert scale; 1=very unsatisfied to 5=very satisfied.
  • Likelihood to switch to the concept if advantages relative to the product need were provided – Again, measured by using a 1 to 5 scale; 1=not at all likely to 5=extremely likely.
  • Frequency of the problem described by the product need – Can be assessed with an ordinal word scale (e.g., more than once per day, every day or two, once or twice per week, less than once per week).

Finally, robust conjoint analysis can be a great tool for measuring the importance of – and customer preference for – various features and attributes. Conjoint analysis is a survey-based statistical technique used in market research that helps determine how people value different feature combinations with the highest preference share. It provides a deeper understanding of attribute importance by determining both the value of each attribute and the value of each level within an attribute.

By using a hybrid approach with qualitative and quantitative research, you can capture a wider view that encompasses direct user feedback along with additional confidence that a broader portion of your target audience feels the same way about the product concept. Innovation Research and Strategy can provide a future roadmap for product concepts that can take a brand into new spaces over the next 3+ years, which can expand the brand’s future presence and reach in exponential ways.

The Innovation Research and Strategy series is co-led by The Martec Group, a global market research and consulting firm based in metro Detroit, and Great Lakes GrowthWorks, a growth strategy and innovation consulting firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Next in the series: Brand positioning … now that you know which product concepts to invest in, enhance your brand positioning strategy through innovation research.

>> Download the Innovation Research and Strategy eBook today.

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