Three Simple Rules for Creating Effective Concept Stimuli for Market Research Testing

Method Spotlight December 2014 - January 2015

As a primary marketing research firm focused on product development and innovation research, we are required to present stimuli to test new concepts in both quantitative and qualitative research environments. This is an absolute necessity in many projects; it serves as an intervening event designed to elicit, then measure potential changes in behavior or product preference.


The following rules pertain to situations where there is not an actual, physical concept or item to share. Although I would recommend that these tenets be components in a physical concept test, those scenarios vary slightly, and will be discussed in a future brief.


The most frequently overlooked element of concept tests is the concept presentation itself.

During numerous debriefing conversations both before and during the kickoff of a research project, we understand and discuss the fundamental requirement of a central, comprehensive presentation. Formats, media, tone, and purpose are all suggested and agreed upon to effectively present the idea. Why then, does it often happen that when we arrive at the point within a project when a concept stimuli is the next step, do we find we, the marketing research firm, are being asked to “put something together”?


This is an understandable situation. In the busyness and commotion that comes with a product development effort, there is seldom extra time to put together a solid media piece which adequately articulates the entirety of the concept in terms of its attributes and benefits. One reason for this is that frequently the teams who are juggling myriad requirements for integration into a next generation concept are running extremely tight timelines, yet are the ones who are also responsible for generating such a media piece.


Your concept stimuli is of paramount importance to a clear customer read.

We remind all of our clients that clearly articulating their product concept in a voice their customer will understand is critical to achieving a true read on its merits. Just as you can only receive an accurate reading if you ask the right people to take part in your survey, personal interviews, or focus groups, your customers can only understand the true potential of your product concept if the stimuli, your presentation, is an effective, engaging, and thorough representation of your ideas or products.


Our experience has revealed that there are a few very simple rules anyone can follow to insure their concept is well presented and assimilated, and often, (but not always), it can be accomplished without professional production. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list or a detailed presentation how-to, but if followed, it will give your concept a great head start.


Rule 1. Summary, detail, summary: The standard format for an excellent presentation.

You have likely heard the “sandwich axiom” before: Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you just told them. It’s not fancy, but this adage is still remarkably good advice for creating a presentation of a concept. First, it allows your audience to focus on your main point quickly; they understand what to listen for. Secondly, your audience is prepared for a point by point summation of an idea they have already been introduced to. By establishing a clear conclusion, you are free to reiterate major points, thereby emphasizing the benefits of your concept once you are certain a clear understanding has been reached. This is the beauty of this basic organizational structure; it works because it leads your audience through a logical progression of your ideas.


Rule 2. Use video with audio whenever possible.

Ensuring that your testing audience understands your concept thoroughly before rendering their opinions is crucial. Only false data can come from incomplete or misunderstood messaging. Video presentation is your most valuable tool, and possibly your most versatile. Jerome Bruner’s studies at New York University suggest that comprehension of a concept is increased by 60% when it is displayed in a video format versus plain text. One explanation is that we are attracted to visual stimuli; another is that video allows for outward interaction when compared with text, which is solitary. Your customers will respond better and find greater comprehension with a multi-modal presentation, which video, when combined with audio, can provide. 


In addition to communication benefits, effective video presentations also enable greater consistency in concept presentations, especially when compared to messages delivered verbally. Consistency is vital to collecting reliable data. Though consistently presented, misconception can still develop with text based stimuli, as complex points may be dismissed if they are difficult to follow, and there is no standard language which will produce the same response in every reader. This is especially true in qualitative endeavors, such as focus groups or one on one interviews; video reduces ambiguity. Consistent, clear messaging is best enabled by words and pictures combined. Remember, clarity and consistency in data is primary marketing research’s first priority.


“Of course we want great video, but it’s so expensive to create.”


At this point, many of you may be thinking that good video comes at a premium, and that is often the case. However, there are several ways you or others within your organization can create an effective video using some very simple guidelines and tools.


The following video showcases the usefulness of PowerPoint’s recording capabilities.




Rule 3. Solicit input from your team members and encourage accountability through feedback deadlines.

The quality of your presentation is extremely important, but so is securing willing team members to create the piece. Although this is your pivotal concept stimuli, it is remarkable how many product development team members are reticent to step in and create the concept presentation video. Every company’s culture is different, and there are various reasons behind this reluctance, but one ominous reason is that no one wants to be the person who left something out of the explanation of the concept.


That’s why this last rule is so important. The bottom line is that the creation of the concept was a team effort, and so must be the presentation. Buy-in from every member, from brainstorm to storyboard, through editing and finalizing, is critical to producing a complete, well integrated picture. Not only will this joint effort create the best finished product, but including your team in the review process builds ownership of the finished concept, and increased pride in your offerings. More educated voices allow for greater depth of input, clear identification for improvements, and the growth of new ideas for future concepts and better ways to present them. Never forget this last step; it has far reaching connotations for your organization. 


As a final note, keep your presentation short. Under three minutes is ideal for quantitative results. Information assimilation degrades past that, and subjects’ attention drifts. These constraints don’t apply to more complex concepts, and in these case, qualitative methods should be employed; naturally, these presentations may be considerably longer. Perhaps the best rule of thumb is to use the time you need, no more. Above all, invest your entire team in making your concept presentation comprehensive, accessible, and fascinating.

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