Market Testing for Fun and Profit
Market testing, otherwise known as “concept testing,” is the process of bringing a concept to a customer for their feedback. This can be done at various points of the new product development process.
Early on, just after idea generation, concept testing might be done using sketches. With focus groups or In-Depth Interviews, the team presents the sketches to customers for their reaction. With primitive artifacts such as these, it’s critical to begin by ensuring that the customer understands the concept prior to seeking their feedback. This can be tricky! “Tricky” because you must explain the concept without selling it. Helping them to understand it without pointing out the benefits. This is not easy. For this reason, it’s recommended to create a script that describes the concept. One that can be used every time, thus reducing variability in how the concept is presented. From there, feel free to answer any respondent questions, but again, being careful not to sell the concept.
Later, it’s a good idea to bring a non-functional prototype to the customer. You’ll likely need to explain how the concept works, again being careful to avoid selling.
From here, it’s common to continue concept testing with increasingly functional units, all the way until you have an early production build. As the products become functional, you want to get them out of the focus group room, and into the actual environment where customers will use them. Finally, the ultimate test is to let customers take them home. Using them as they actually would, in the context of normal use. In this last case, provide the customers with means to record their thoughts, and if possible, even video of them using the product.
In all the scenarios above, when gathering feedback, begin by seeking the most unaided feedback as possible. Get their general impressions. What do they think about it? How do they think it might be useful? What are they concerned about? Eventually, however, you’ll have some specific questions you’d like to ask about your new concept. Certainly do so, but make sure that you do this only after getting their unaided input. And as part of the process notes, always separate the data that customers offered freely from what required prompting.
To ensure success, consider hiring an outside facilitator. Having invested lots of time in the project, your team will hardly be impartial. If that’s not possible, at least ask a product manager from another group within your company to fill the role. You’ll likely have the opportunity to return the favor! Also, as this article explains, don’t confuse concept testing with Voice of the Customer. That is, don’t confuse the testing of concepts with gathering/prioritizing customer needs. These are different functions. For a bit of entertainment to learn about concept-testing gone wrong, read about Coca-Cola’s testing of New Coke in the 1980’s. It’s well documented, including within Chapter 9 of the Jobs-to-be-Done reference, The Statue in the Stone.
Finally, for an in-depth discussion, make sure and reference Section 5.8, “Test Marketing and Market Testing” within PDMA’s Body of Knowledge. It contains a detailed discussion of qualitative and quantitative methods and their applications throughout the NPD process.
He has a diverse professional background within manufacturing engineering, product management, voice-of-the-customer training and SaaS development. Notable career stops include product manager for John Deere’s compact tractors, innovation leader for Actuant corporation, and Director of the Strategyn Institute. At Strategyn, he worked alongside the world's best jobs-to-be-done practitioners. Strategyn, founded by pioneer Tony Ulwick, is ground zero for Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI).
Today, as Senior Vice President for The AIM Institute, Burleson leads product development for Blueprinter® software, teaches workshops on innovation using the New Product Blueprinting process, and advises corporate leaders and practitioners on growth via JTBD principles.
He has a MS in Management and a BS in Electrical Engineering from North Carolina State University.