Once dismissed as a simplistic study, concept research is a tool that’s as powerful as it is necessary. But it only works when you do your homework.

“Give me the freedom of a tight brief!”

This quote by David Ogilvy is as true as ever. And it’s pertinent, not just in advertising and marketing verticals, but for any industry that takes its first cue from a brief.

Most people involved in primary research swear by the importance of a well-written brief. But what is this tight, well-written document? It’s one that asks the right questions and provides clear, actionable answers.

This idea – of a well-prepared outline – can easily apply to concept research. Often, concept research fails to get the attention it deserves. If done properly, it’s an important tool for any business. And as your business grows, innovates, and ventures into new territories, effective concept research and testing becomes critical to success.

In the hands of a competent product manager, a well-conducted concept test is a powerful thing. It allows them to develop and weigh new ideas and offerings. Substitute a vague brief for a well-thought-out foundation, however, and the most diligently-executed study is rendered practically useless.

So, what questions should your tight, well-written brief ask and answer? Below, we have identified seven questions you must consider when preparing for concept research.

1. What Is The Business Objective Behind The Research?
A clearly-stated business objective gives perspective. This allows your research partner to really understand and appreciate what’s motivating the research. Too often, business managers do not realize the importance of sharing background information. Actually, this key information has a bearing on study design, including methodology, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and other factors.
Also, don’t let the business objective get confused with the research objective. Both of these occurrences – failing to pass on the objective and confusing objectives – can lead to inaccurate research results.
For example: Is the objective to gain share from competition? Or simply that a business needs to rationalize the current offering in a cash cow category?

2. What Is The Key Decision?
Once the business objective is clear, the key decision should also be defined. This is one of the major factors in evaluating research results. And it impacts the whole research design. Left to individual interpretation, a fuzzy concept of the key decision could lead to tension between you and your research partner later, particularly when findings are presented.
For example: Is the key decision to identify which packaging, of three possibilities, is most convenient to store? Or to identify the one which connotes price premium-ness?

3. Who Else Do You Want to Reach?
While research partners are primarily responsible for defining the study’s target group, they may not be fully incorporating other groups. By this, we mean the niche or the not-so-obvious groups that still have an impact on the market. It is therefore vital that you list any specific groups that can have significant impact on the business decision.
For example: Mothers who act as gatekeepers for kids’ categories, even if the mothers are not the key decision makers or ultimate product consumers; teenagers who act as key influencers when it comes to buying new-generation gadgets.

4. What Format Will You Use to Test Your Concept?
A concept can be tested in various formats – text, audio, video, image, animation, etc. Since the concept format determines the research design, it must be clearly defined. This will ensure your research partner has complete information about the study.
For example: Testing a simple word format concept for a relatively new raw idea; using an animation to explain a new technology prototype.

5. What Is The Suggested or Preferred Methodology?
More often than not, research methodology is decided in tandem with the research agency. However, if the client believes that a particular methodology will yield better results, or if there is a history of testing using a certain type of framework, mention it in the brief. This will provide a sound basis for healthy technical discussions.

6. Which KPIs Will Be Tested?
The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you select will serve as the main parameters for the test of your concept. They’re called key for a reason and as such should be thoroughly considered and defined. And make sure you know where they fit in to the business context. This will ensure that the right areas are being tracked and measured in the study. In turn, you’ll be given better insight regarding the prospective performance of your concept and how it will react with your stated business objective.
For example: The value of ‘uniqueness’ in a line-extension versus its importance in a brand-new idea. How ‘believability’ is central to a new claim in an existing product.

7. What Benchmarks Will Be Used To Make Go/No-Go Decisions?
Benchmarks are the yardsticks that you will use to define performance. As such – and like KPIs – it’s crucial to give them careful thought. Allow room for discussion with key stakeholders. While setting these benchmarks, it is important to refer to the decision context of the study.
For example: Using previous launch scores for a new product category; benchmarking against a competitive product when replacing an existing product category.

Essentially, a good brief should combine business requirements and research specifics. It’s critical that the tactical research specifics are tailored to fit into the larger business requirements. Otherwise, you risk trying to make ‘the hand fit the glove’ – and obfuscating the insights you’ve worked so hard to gain.

Authored by Shiva Seth – Manager, Market Research Practice at Absolutdata & Akanksha Mittal – Research Analyst, Market Research Practice at Absolutdata