industry thoughts from Clarteza

10 February
2012
Katy Gajewicz

How to Get a Read On Your New Product Idea, Or At Least a Second Date

The big idea:  It’s out there, and you want to be the one who discovers it, markets it, and profits from it.  Right or wrong, there is no shortage of approaches to uncovering the big idea, from trend analyses, to focus groups, to epiphanies in the middle of the night.  But how do you know when you’ve found it?  How do you uncover the diamond in the rough from the laundry list of ideas that come out of any well-meaning brainstorming effort?

Your gut is certainly a good start, and there are situations (and corporations) that call for avoiding conventional consumer measurement of new product ideas altogether.  However, getting early consumer feedback through traditional concept testing is the bedrock of many marketers’ innovation processes.

But how do you do it?  How do you represent a beginning new product idea in a way that makes the consumer love it as much as you do?  At the same time, how do you make sure that the way you represent that idea could realistically be delivered upon, and communicated, given your R&D and advertising budgets?

Consider for a moment, the analogy of a mom trying to fix her prodigal son up with a pretty girl.  Mom knows how wonderful her son is, she created him after all!  And in order to see if there is a love connection between her son and the girl, she wants the girl to have the full sense of all of the fabulous things about him:  How smart he is, how sensitive he is, how well he wields a hammer and a nail, and of course how attractive he is.  In fact, Mom could talk for hours about the redeeming qualities of her son because she wants to be sure that the girl has all of the information, down to the last detail, to really understand how great he is. Unfortunately, after the first five minutes (or more realistically, 30 seconds) of hearing the mom wax on about her son, the girl stops hearing what Mom is saying.  Worse yet, as the description of the son develops to include one wonderful quality after the next, the girl starts to question his appeal altogether.  After all, there is such a thing as “too good to be true”.

In writing a good new product concept you are a bit like the “adoring mom” in this story.  You, or your trusted team, have created a new product idea and you can’t wait to share it with your consumer to give her a chance to recognize (and validate) all the wonderful things about it.  Your challenge, however, is to not get in the way of your new idea in your attempt to move it forward.  Not an easy task, but an achievable one, if you follow a few simple guidelines:

1.     Relinquish your “proud parent” instincts

It is no surprise that when a new idea is “born”, there is a lot of emotion invested into seeing it succeed.  For the lab technician who crafted the formula after weeks of hard labor and the brand manager who nurtured it to life, it is their “baby”.  Understandable, for sure, but this mentality leads to a tendency to write page long, single-spaced concepts that include multiple product features, multiple product benefits, and  unsubstantiated claims.  The first step in writing a good concept is to shed your emotional attachment and view the idea not as you do, but as your consumer will.  This means telling your new product’s “story” within the context of your consumer’s life – what matters to him or her.  A simple, short set-up paragraph that frames up a current problem she or he has, or a mindset they share, will increase your odds of making a connection right from the start.

2.     Give the elevator speech

Once you have put some distance between you and your “baby” idea, now it is time to identify the one thing that you want the consumer to take away from the concept.  This is easier said than done, admittedly, but it is critical if you want your target to process the idea at all. For an overloaded concept is a lot like the accounting principle of FIFO:  First in, first out.  The more ideas (or benefits) you pack into a concept, the less the consumer will actually register. As a result,  your chances of them remembering the most important benefit is much diminished by layering on secondary and third benefits.   But if, by chance, you do qualify your overloaded concept at the screening stage and move it forward into development, your ad agency will likely be hard-pressed to create an execution in a standard format (that excludes infomercials!) that is recalled and persuasive.  Point being: Identify the most consumer relevant benefit of your idea, and the most compelling reason to support that benefit, and focus your story on that.  Here’s the test, (you’ve heard this one before but it works well here too): Pretend you are in the elevator at your company headquarters and the CEO gets in and says, “Hey, what are you working on these days?”  In the 30 (or 15, or 5) seconds you have from the time the doors close to when they open and he exits, what will you tell him about your idea to give it its best shot of impressing him?  That’s your concept copy.

3.     If you’ve got it, flaunt it

When it comes to the support point or reason-to-believe in your concept, use a hard claim if you have one.  For example, if you’re lucky enough to have the substantiation for a superiority claim versus your leading competitor, here’s your chance to trot it out.  Remember though, different cultures react differently to “name calling” so be aware of your consumer’s tolerance (and local country restrictions), but if the light is still green and you’ve got the gas – go for it!

4.     A picture is worth a thousand words

Remember your son?  The one you want to fix up with the pretty girl?  You certainly would have, as part of your sales-pitch to her, at least one photo in your wallet ready for show, right?  Well, the power of a picture holds for concepts as well.  A couple of well-placed images that help to reinforce the product benefit, place it in context for the consumer, and highlight any critical product features or a claim will go a long way toward demonstrating its reason for being.  And if your benefit, or reason to believe, is best communicated in video format (for example, motion is a critical aspect), consider a video concept.  One caution: Don’t use this as a “get out of jail free” card for representing all of the things you couldn’t say in the concept copy.  The images you choose should not introduce any new product information, but should instead reinforce the concept body copy.

One final thought, just because a new idea doesn’t “make the cut” first time out, don’t necessarily give up.  A well-designed concept screen will not only provide a thumbs-up/thumbs-down, but will offer useful diagnostics that can potentially help you optimize your concept and give it another go.  Perhaps a careful makeover is all that is needed to catch the eye of the object of your affection.