“In writing … kill all your darlings.” Even when you know this oft-quoted William Faulkner snippet doesn’t really refer to concept testing, it’s still frankly terrifying. We don’t want to kill ideas that we really love – especially if they happen to be ideas that we came up with.
Faulkner, although not a 21st century marketer, knew exactly what he was talking about. As humans, our tendency is to nurture our pet concepts. What we don’t do is look at them coolly and critically. Even when we try to gauge their marketability, we can be unconsciously swayed by our own infatuation.
This can become a problem for business, because failing to kick darling projects to the curb can result in the loss of a lot of time and money. And that’s where concept testing comes in: it allows us to test every kind of idea we have, good and bad.
Factors in a Successful Concept Test
Another question arises at this point: How can you tell which idea is dynamite and which is a dud? We’ve spent quite a lot of time with concept tests, and this is what we’ve learned:
- Weigh purchase intent, not just appeal. Likeability of a concept is important, but it’s not the whole story. During the research process, people may love your idea. They get its value. The only problem is that they don’t plan to purchase it. Your darling has gone from a fantastic concept to a product failure in the making.
- Close the perception gap. Often, a critical bias surfaces at the concept stage. Your instinct may tell you that you’re simply adding to an already-awesome concept. Your customer base may disagree. By testing a number of different ideas quickly, you’ll get a better grasp of what your customer perceives versus what you think you’re portraying. And the faster you close this gap, the better for your business.
- Show your differences. When you’re testing a ‘new and improved’ product concept – or a new concept that’s similar to what’s already available – it’s important to demonstrate just how much better your idea is than what’s now on the market. If your testers think that it’s just a bit better or just a bit different from what they currently have, they’ll see no need to upgrade.
- Watch your language. Poor communication can fail an idea. If your language is hard to understand or unintentionally misleading, your concept will pay the price.
- Learn from failure. A failed concept isn’t necessarily a waste. It can become a key contributor to the success of a new idea – but only when we identify and learn from the causes of failure. Parlaying this into an improved product transforms the test from loss to learning experience.
While you can test a lot of concepts, you can’t make all of them into shining successes. By testing fast and frequently, you’ll be able to quickly distinguish between a bad idea – cherished darling though it may be – and a good one. You can even take the lessons you learned in testing the bad idea and use them to make the good concept into a great one. In the end, you’ll save time and money as you get your customers’ darlings to the market.