Product test: how to prepare for the launch
Have you come up with a revolutionary service or product and are absolutely convinced that it will be extraordinarily successful in the marketplace? Having confidence in your intuition is important, but enthusiasm risks being a double-edged sword in the world of startups (and beyond). There is a way to test the soundness of your idea, and that way is called “product testing“.
Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” teaches:
“There is no better way to find whether a product really works than to put it in the hands of customers.”
But what does it mean to “put it in the hands of customers”? To ensure a greater likelihood of success, before launching your business, you should provide a preliminary phase in which you test your product or service on a small scale (but the same argument can also be applied to the site, a marketing campaign and any other key component of your new business).
Remember: you can study even the coolest launch of all time, but not even the best launch will save a product that no one is going to buy. Thorough planning is essential, and product testing is now an indispensable step for anyone who wants to achieve success with their revolutionary idea.
If you do not know what a product test is and have never heard of Focus Groups, you risk wasting time, money and all your efforts. This guide is precisely to remove all doubt. The first question that needs to be answered, of course, is “what is a product test?”
What is a Product Test?
A product test is an analysis that generally involves offering a product to a sample of consumers target, who use, test and/or consume it for the purpose of evaluating its qualities.
This phase, which must precede the official launch of the product on the market, makes it possible to collect quantitative and qualitative data on the entire life cycle of the product itself, verify its perceived value, and, where necessary, modify the strategic approach or some individual components of it by incorporating new useful ideas from “outside” to the project.
There are several aspects of the product that can be investigated: one example is the selling price, but don’t forget that more “emotional” factors can also be tested, such as the trust placed by consumers in the brand and its compatibility with their values.
The role of product testing in marketing
Now that you know what a product test is, it is also critical that you know why it is so important to test products.
It is precisely the consumers who sanction the success or failure of a product: knowing their needs and desires is, therefore, of crucial importance because it allows you to allocate money and time only to the projects most likely to succeed. Not only that, thanks to product testing you can more easily convince others to support your product concept and you can precisely identify the audience segment that most appreciates your product.
Having a real sense of the level of consumer satisfaction allows you, as mentioned earlier, to identify the winning features of the product and those that, on the other hand, need improvement. You may find, for example, that a slight variation to the product could make it more appealing to a much larger segment of the public.
More generally, the consumer feedback you can get at this stage enables you to make more accurate strategic decisions not only at the production stage, but also regarding your marketing plan.
There is another aspect to consider: up to this point we have referred to the product test that precedes the official launch of a product on the market, but this analysis can also prove very valuable if you need to reposition one of your products against competitors or if you are about to launch an improved version of a product already on the market (and in many other situations).
How to Start a Product Testing Campaign
Previously, we have defined product testing as an “analysis,” but for greater fairness, it is necessary to refer to several types of analysis combined.
The first is the so-called concept test, which involves analyzing the concept of a product when it is not yet on the market. This, as already pointed out, makes it possible to reduce the risk of wasting resources in launching a product destined for failure. In practical terms, concept testing consists of subjecting different concepts to consumer judgment, so as to then invest only in those that are most appreciated. We have a tip for you in this regard: to obtain more indicative and useful information, submit to consumers concepts of products that are in similar stages of development with each other.
There is another analysis that plays an absolutely central role in product testing: it is conjoint analysis, which consists of proposing the same product to consumers several times, each time with different characteristics. The purpose is to compare the attributes of a product and identify those most valued by potential customers. On a practical level, consumers can choose the best prototype or rank the various prototypes submitted to them and can indicate the features they do not like in the product and the desirability of the remaining features.
Thus, product testing makes it possible, among other things, to find out which features are most valued by consumers. Fundamental for this purpose is to know the needs of customers, through an analysis that, precisely, is called a needs analysis and that in operational terms generally translates into a survey useful for gathering information about consumers’ purchasing decisions.
Focus groups: a qualitative approach
If you have never heard of “Focus Group” it is necessary to open a dutiful parenthesis on this effective information gathering technique used in social research.
Origins and Meaning of the Focus Group
Until the 1940s, market research was mostly “quantitative” and based on sales data and surveys aimed at monitoring consumption.
After World War II ended, sociologists Robert Merton and Paul Lazarsfeld, determined to understand how exposure to wartime propaganda was influencing people, opted for face-to-face interviews with small groups of people, who were involved in more informal and extended debates than the generic large-sample interviews typical of quantitative methods. This “qualitative” approach was later adopted consistently in the world of advertising as well. The term “Focus Group” was coined several years later, more precisely in 1991, by psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Dichter.
But what is a focus group? It is a particular methodology used in social research that consists of a group of people who, guided by one or more moderators, discuss a specific topic among themselves. Over the course of an hour and a half or two, the moderators guide the discussion based on a set list of predetermined questions, encouraging the flow of ideas from participants and paying attention that group members do not go “off topic.”
There is one major difference from quantitative analyses: the data collected through Focus Groups are not purely about numbers; rather, they focus on participants’ emotions and opinions about the topic at the center of the discussion.
How to organize an effective focus group
Organizing a Focus Group can prove extremely useful because it is a methodology that allows information to be gathered simultaneously from a group of people with considerable time savings.
Not only that, within a friendly environment, participants feel free to open up and freely express what they really think, and it is therefore more likely that insights will emerge from the discussion that were not previously considered.
Fundamental in this regard is the construction of the group. Those who participate in the discussion must be chosen according to certain parameters designed with the aim of identifying a heterogeneous group representative of the different characteristics of the target audience. Obviously, recruiting the right people is also related to the objective of the research: choosing people with similar characteristics makes for a more comfortable environment and stimulates conversation, while opting for an uneven group is more useful when it is necessary to listen to different perspectives around a topic.
Decisive is the role of the moderator(s): this particular figure must be sociable, must inspire confidence and have a sense of humor, must not be shy, and must be charismatic but not authoritarian.
The moderator must guide the discussion by intervening at the right time with the right questions and, for this reason, must be able to listen, interpret correctly what the participants say, and remember the various interventions (linking them together). Not only that, he or she must also be able to carefully observe nonverbal behavior and be ready to react even in case of unanticipated events. The moderator’s questions should be short, clear and understandable (the language register adopted should be the one used by the Focus Group participants).
Equally important is the figure of the observer or assistant moderator: he or she keeps detailed notes of what the participants say, observes the linguistic expressions they use and nonverbal behavior, describes the atmosphere that has been created in the group (also indicating precisely the position of each participant within the room), and participates in data analysis.
Types of Focus Groups and Applications in Marketing
Earlier, we mentioned some common characteristics of focus groups but you should know that there are different types.
In relation to the number of participants, for example, it is possible to distinguish between:
- Traditional focus group (with between 6 and 12 members, plus the moderator);
- Mini Focus Group (with 4 or 5 participants).
The focus group can take place in-person or at a distance or online (via video conferencing platforms): in this case, the number of members is generally limited to a maximum of 6-8 people.
The role of the moderator can also change, resulting in different types of focus groups:
- Focus Group with participating moderator (the role of moderator is temporarily filled by one or more participants);
- Focus groups with dueling moderators (two moderators take opposing positions on the topic at the center of the discussion).
It is also important for you to know the meaning of Two-Way Focus Group. This is a particular mode of Focus Group in which there are two groups: one discusses the topic and the other comments on the conclusions reached by the members of the first group.
With regard to the applications of Focus Group in marketing, however, you should keep in mind that this methodology is not only useful in product testing. Focus groups are also used, for example, to assess the potential impact of an advertising campaign or to test consumer response to a rebranding strategy or a change in a company’s visual identity.
Using Focus Groups for Branding and Packaging
We just said it: focus groups can also be used for rebranding operations or in anticipation of packaging-related changes.
In the first case, the responses of Focus Group participants can provide valuable insights into the positioning of the brand in the minds of consumers and steer the rebranding strategy and, more generally, choices related to Corporate Identity into a well-defined decision.
In the second case, however, it is possible to submit the packaging modification project to the Focus Group members and assess their reactions so that they can decide whether to proceed or give up (or modify the project).
Evaluating the results: analysis and interpretation
Collecting a large amount of valuable information will do you no good if you do not know how to analyze this data. There are several metrics that are useful in Product Testing. We suggest a few:
- Quality: is the product of high quality?
- Uniqueness: is the product different from other products already on the market?
- Relevance: does the product meet consumers’ needs and wants?
- Value: is the product good value for money?
- Purchase intent: do consumers want to buy the product?
Obviously, the choice of metrics to consider and the importance of them is related to the company’s objectives in relation to the product. Choosing the right metrics, however, is not the only prerequisite for properly analyzing the data derived from a Focus Group.
How to Analyze Product Test Data
Regardless of which metrics you choose for your product tests, take care to always maintain consistency among them: always ask the same questions for each concept so you can more accurately compare the answers.
In order to compare responses, however, you need to associate a quantitative value. The Likert scale can be very useful to you in this regard, because it can help you interpret the information obtained on the metrics you have identified. It is a measurement method that assesses attitudes, opinions and perceptions and can be used with extremely flexible questions pertaining to a variety of areas, including market research. For each question or statement, the respondent is given a series of responses (usually 5, of the type “extremely,” “very,” “quite,” “a little,” “not at all”) with which a score from 5 to 1 (or from 1 to 5 in the case of increasing responses) is associated.
To interpret the data gleaned from your analysis even better, you can take an additional expedient: you can include screening questions (e.g., demographic), the answers to which will help you learn more about the participants and segment the results by group.
There is one last aspect you need to consider to make your product testing really effective: don’t limit yourself to one test because doing them frequently helps you interpret the data better and react more quickly to external changes.