A new product concept is not the product itself. It's merely an abstract
representation of product technology and end-benefits. Sooner or later
that idea, fuzzy thought or generalized notion must be communicated to
prospective consumers for their evaluation. Typically that communication
is expressed in a strategically focused product positioning statement.
Trouble is, if your product positioning is talking "apples" and
your target prospect is hearing "oranges," any evaluation of that
particular product concept is headed for disaster. You could abandon what
could have been the best idea in the lot. Worse yet, you could commercialize
an unwanted apple -- not the coveted orange the consumer thought you were
Because communication is an art it's easy for a product positioning
to create the wrong -- or, more likely, less than optimal -- perceptions.
Particularly if the concept involves abstract benefits... new-to-the-world
technology... or ideas driven by intuitive/emotive forms of logic. Experience
suggests out of eight concepts, one absolutely fails to communicate the
intended message and/or strategic content and another two will be significantly
less than optimum. Murphy's Law being what it is, one of the three
miscommunications would have been the "big idea."
The tool, in its simplest configuration, troubleshoots communication efforts
of candidates prior to concept testing to determine if the intended selling
proposition registered, was understood and accomplished key strategic
objectives. Communications that missed the strategic mark are revised
and advanced to the next step in the NPD effort. The effort is qualitative.
Quick. Inexpensive. And can avoid costly downstream mistakes.
If necessary the procedure can begin at the beginning, developing the
communications necessary to capture and convey the concept envisioned
by the NPD team. The effort uses whatever means are necessary to express,
in consumer terminology and graphics, the strategic elements of the product
benefit, supporting technology, tangible features & attributes, performance
characteristics, pragmatic proof-of-performance and abstract benefits.
Typically the communication represents a fully developed product positioning
and the medium may take the form of poster, image or storyboards. In some
cases even the package itself may serve as the format conveying the product
positioning. Animation, videotape or CD presentations may be appropriate,
but in no instance does the communication employ tactical -- or executional
In instances where the communication must be developed, members of the
concept team are briefed by NPD managers who topline product technology,
tangible features & attributes, performance characteristics, pragmatic
proof-of-performance, abstract benefits. Plus profiles and need matrices
of the target prospect.
In other situations the concept components have already been consolidated
by managers into a finished positioning statement that has been communicated
in a posterboard, frame-by-frame story board or videotape. Working with
these positioning materials, Two-On-One interviews probe concept communication
efforts to confirm target prospects "got it" at all four levels:
registration of plain text message...comprehension of strategic content...
internalization of personally relevant benefits/utility...rationalization
of purchase decision (economic or coherence with personal value system).
No attempt to evaluate the concept's impact on purchase intent is
made; the effort would be both premature and statistically unreliable.
Necessary revisions are recommended to NPD managers and, with their approval,
final versions of the concept are advanced to the next phase of the project.
The tool has been used to optimize concepts for a variety of food and
beverage concepts including a yogurt substitute, frozen cookie dough,
table wine and premium beer. Hi-tech applications include PCs and printers.
Comm Checks for Allergan Lens Care product concepts were conducted with
both Optometrists and end-users; ultimately a revised miscommunication
later emerged from quantitative testing as the "big-idea" -- a
save brand managers scored as a "fumble recovery."
As for potential applications, it's easier to identify the situations
where it won't work than where it will work because applications include
virtually any product concept predicated on a strategic product positioning
-- rational or intuitive. That excludes only brands bereft of strategy
and driven largely by tactical efforts to entertain, heighten awareness,
build sample reels for Creative Directors or establish a strategically
deprived brand image.
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