Why concept testing is soul destroying, yet the right thing to do.

Ideas are easy. Successful innovation is harder to achieve and requires a disciplined approach. Part of that approach is engaging customers along the way – they are quick to tell us when an idea doesn’t meet a need. Then it can be decided if it’s iterated or destroyed. More often than not, a successful product or service is very different to how it was when it was conceived.

Engaging customers through the process doesn’t need to be unwieldy and expensive. The agile philosophy has gained ground for good reasons. Putting concepts in front of customers is not a tick the box scenario to get customer sign-off and internal approval.

Keep it raw

Concepts are presented to the target audience to learn from, to help us iterate and increase our chances of ultimate success post-launch or shipment. They don’t have to be beautiful and polished. In fact, it’s better they’re not. The more raw they are, the more honest research participants are when asked to evaluate them. If they feel a concept has been worked on to perfection, they’re much less inclined to highlight any concerns or weaknesses. Test and fail early and don’t be afraid of this. Embrace it.

So, what ideas should be tested? The catalyst for an idea should be customer empathy, honing in on a real human need that’s not met (well). Ok, we admit, sometimes we need to include the ‘great’ idea of an Executive that was sparked by a chat with a partner at home or a friend at a dinner party.

No time wasting

It’s best to test a variety of ideas so these can be ranked. This helps provide contextual evidence that some ideas, no matter where they came from, need to be buried in the corporate vault for the foreseeable future. Soul destroying that maybe, but it’s much less painful than dedicating precious resources to an idea that never had a chance of being a winner in the first place.

"We spent 18 months working on something that nobody wanted." -- Banking Executive

Be prepared to kill the gems that one may become emotionally attached to. Customers help us in this regard.

How we test concepts is quite an art. Providing people with enough information so they can understand and visualise an idea needs to be balanced with keeping it broad enough so they don’t get too carried away with the finer detail (e.g. not liking the colour). All concepts need to be presented equally, but it’s not a beauty contest.

A lo-fi mock-up often works just great. Guerrilla testing can at times be sufficient, depending on the target and requirements of the project and business. This is no place for over-selling. Keep the language really simple and factual.

Create a rhythm

When concept testing can be even more successful is when there’s a rhythm established such as monthly customer sessions. Stakeholders across the business are made aware and have a tendency to want ideas evaluated as soon as possible. When more time isn’t spent over-engineering an idea it’s the perfect scenario. Test early and iterate.

Whether or not the concepts should be branded or not, depends on the context. Invariably, brand shouldn’t be required to get a concept ‘over the line’. Keeping the concepts unbranded should also alleviate any nervousness of the legal team.

Desirability before feasibility and viability

Only when a concept has proved itself with customers should feasibility and viability come into play. To really understand the true nature of this, we strongly encourage companies to build a prototype and implement a minimal viable product, with the right metrics set in place to be able to test and learn.

Once something is put through production, new learnings and considerations are uncovered very quickly. Here, we get to see how easy it is to produce, how quality is upheld and how easy it is to maintain over time.

Continual refinement is the name of the game. Ironically, everything becomes a concept once again and with continuous customer feedback there’s ongoing refinement to maintain/gain competitive advantage in this ever-changing landscape of customers.