How can I know if I really have to place a product in home since it’s so much more expensive than testing it in a Central Location Test?

The choice of testing methodology depends on many different things. On the whole, a Central Location Test (CLT) may be all you need if you want to determine things such as:

  • Can consumers tell the difference in taste between two formulas??
  • How visually appealing is a given sample?
  • Do consumers have any problems opening a new type of package?
  • Which of a large series of flavors are most popular? 

But if your business issues are more complicated, you may need to place product with consumers and let them experience it over time, in the natural setting where they would use it if they had made a purchase, and where other family members’ opinions can influence purchase likelihood. 

Home Use Testing (HUT) can be essential if your issue involves:

  • Reliability of outcomes when consumers prepare the product for themselves
  • Use up rate over time
  • Drop in interest over time as the novelty wears off and routine sets in.
  • Durability

Of course, it’s always possible to design a test that combines different aspects of both CLT’s and HUT’s. We have had a lot of success in placing a product in a CLT situation so that we capture all of those initial reactions. Then we send the participants home with the sample to be tested and a mobile research login. Over the course of the placement period, we ask participants to log in a given number of times (depending on the length of the placement and the complexity of the tasks to be reported on). Then we end with an in-home interview that captures all of the participants’ reactions and can uncover issues we might not have thought about until we see the product in place.

Package Testing

The single hardest working element in a marketing bundle is the packaging. This is the mental image that is recalled when a customer hears or thinks about your Brand; yet packaging tends to get short shrift in the testing budget. The same people who would never choose a concept or a taste profile without consumer input, will often blithely look at what the package designers come up with and choose what appeals to them most.

 And yet there are success stories that depend on having gotten the packaging right. I remember many years ago when Kraft (then General Foods) wanted to introduce an iced version of their successful General Foods International Coffee. Imagine back in the day when Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts had not yet made cold coffee drinks so popular. Iced coffee remained a relatively small regional business concentrated in the Northeast.

The Brand team asked us to help them figure out what this new product would look like. We conducted a Building Blocks(sm) test looking at formulas, taste profiles, flavor varieties, benefits, positioning, etc. Almost as a throw-away, a packaging engineer brought samples of an individual tube container (lots of sweetener products now come in this form). The target audience really liked the idea of having their favorite beverage available in a new form. And they LOVED the packaging. That one element got them more excited and they told us how much more acceptable the new form was once it was so easily portable.

The company went on to celebrate the packaging form by using a see-through outer box that showcased the new form very well. Luckily our testing methodologies make it easy to incorporate packaging for gathering customer feedback.

Research For Girl Scouts??

Today is the 103rd birthday of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I've been a member of this organization for just under a third of its existence - it's my 30th year this year! Although I can personally attest to how much I've been influenced by my Girl Scout experiences, both as a child and as an adult, sometimes it's nice to know how others feel, too. 

The Girl Scout Research Institute - did you even know that Girl Scouts has a full Research Institute working on girls' and women's issues all the time? - did a study recently to measure outcomes of Girl Scouting into adulthood. According to the GSRI website, the Alumnae Impact Study showed that "...Girl Scouting works. Women who were Girl Scouts as girls display positive life outcomes to a greater degree than women who were not Girl Scouts. These outcomes are regarding sense of self, community service, civic engagement, education and income. And this is the case for all Girl Scout alumnae, across age/generations, social class, race, and engagement in other extracurricular activities."

The study involved more than 3,750 women, of whom roughly 2,000 were Girl Scout alumnae. It combined qualitative and quantitative methodologies, and tested hypotheses such as:

  • Does Girl Scout participation result in positive life outcomes?
  • What are the benefits of the Girl Scout experience?
  • Does participation benefit certain demographic groups more than others?

You can read the Executive Summary and supporting documents at the GSRI website to find out how those hypotheses tested out. 

So here's my question to you. Were you a Girl Scout (or Boy Scout or 4-H kid or member of another organization) as a child? Are you still a member or volunteer today? And how have those experiences shaped your adult life? Please leave a message in the comments!

Developing Successful Concepts

Concepts should be so easy, shouldn’t they? All you have to do is write a simple sentence or two describing what you want your customer to buy. So why is so much money spent on testing concepts that ultimately fail? Several cardinal sins are quite prevalent among the concept-writing community.

First and foremost is failing to identify, in very specific terms, who the target audience is. Too many times we hope that everyone will want our widget, so we’re careful to not be too restrictive in who we are targeting. For running a business, that may be fine. For writing a good concept, that can be fatal. A narrow definition of the target audience won’t prevent people outside that wheelhouse from purchasing your product. But visualizing a person at the center of your target will help you speak directly to him or her.

Secondly, some concepts fail to help the user understand what a product or service is all about. How is that possible? Well, particularly in the world of apps and electronics, we are so close to our own creation that we don’t realize what we know about it isn’t all that obvious to someone who hasn’t been involved.

But probably the single biggest problem responsible for concept failures is the tendency to throw in the kitchen sink. Every possible benefit gets listed out. While the concept writer hopes that this broadens the appeal of the concept because so many benefits are covered, the actual effect is to say nothing. The real focus gets obscured in a cloud of “nice to know” stuff that buries the main benefit. You need to know what you’re really best at (and that should be “best in class” and better than your competitors) and what that target consumer cares about.

If you don’t know those two facts before you start writing concepts, do some research to find out. Talk to your most likely prospects. Have them tell you what they like and don’t like about what they are using now to solve the problem you want to fix. Lots of methodologies can help you do this efficiently – in-home visits, focus groups and IDI’s (Individual Depth Interviews), methodologies such as Learning Labs(sm), and mobile diaries. Choose your favorite and do your homework. You’ll end up with concepts that pass your screening tests with flying colors.

War Stories

One of the privileges of having had a long career in marketing research is the wealth of stories we can tell about past projects gone dreadfully wrong. Some of the images I will never forget come from my first job as a field director for the Gene Reilly Group in New York in the early 1970’s. They include:

  • Having consumers use a camp sink in front of a one way mirror to brush their teeth while we videotaped them – without disclosing that they were being observed!

  • Trying to place chocolate bars in a NY suburb in July and having most of the samples melt before interviewers could complete the interviews.

  • Having a client bring his cello to the facility because he had a rehearsal for his community orchestra right after the groups.

  • Trying to herd a crowd of 20 year olds into limousines after watching the Broadway production of Hair so they could participate in discussions about the viability of turning this into a movie. Not hard to recruit this job, just hard to enforce participation.

  • Paying women $7.50 to come to the city for a 2 hour group and never having a problem finding willing participants. Particularly for Wednesday groups when they could also enjoy a matinee.

  • Having to refill the moderator’s “coffee” cup without letting the ice cubes clink.

Moving on to a client side job, I vowed never to be one of those clients – but I’m sure I was!