I ♥ Product Testing
by Tom Allen
I attended a marketing research conference this past spring that combined academics, students, and practitioners for a one-day event. Over the course of the day, I had the pleasure of speaking with many new contacts, including a young lady who was about to embark on her own professional career in the industry.
While we were talking, the topic of “What do you like most about marketing research?” came up. Part of my response immediately brought to mind the ubiquitous bumper sticker “I ♥ (fill in the blank)”—and my “blank” is “Product Testing.”
“I ♥ Product Testing” would be my bumper sticker, if I could bring myself to put a bumper sticker on my car. Which I can’t. And I won’t. I could see getting a vanity license plate, but that’s a lot of letters to consolidate. I ♥ PROTEST (for PROduct TESTing) is not the message I want to convey. I suppose I need to work on that. But of all the types of marketing research I’ve had the privilege to conduct, I think product testing is my favorite. It’s definitely in my top three.
Now, simmer down, all you concept-, advertisement-, and package-testing aficionados. You, too, brand-tracker and message testing lovers. All those types of research are great in their own ways, and we have a grand time conducting them for our clients. But the heart is fond of what the heart is fond of, and this heart is especially fond of product testing. Let me tell you why.
Product tests are, at their most basic, some of the simplest types of marketing research that can be done. Which cola do you most prefer the taste of? The one on the left or the one on the right? Take it no further than that and you have something that is arguably insightful. Take it even one step further and the tests can be very revealing. Why do you prefer the one on the left? Just adding that one simple question (and the probes that should normally follow it) takes the implications to the next level.
Now, most product testing goes way beyond the simple methodology I described above. You can do monadic testing, where each respondent evaluates only one product. You can do sequential-monadic product testing, where each respondent evaluates two or more products, one at a time, in a controlled fashion. Product tests can be conducted in central locations, or they can be conducted in consumers’ homes via in-home usage tests (IHUTs). Surveys often get very detailed about product attributes in order to tease out potential product improvements.
I guess what I find so appealing about product tests of all types is that they deal with tangible consumer goods in the pursuit of making them as good as they can reasonably be. At its core, this is the essence of what I consider marketing research to be: improving products to benefit consumers and companies. Respondents often enjoy product tests more than other types of research because they get to interact with and provide feedback for real things. It’s not just a written concept on a page or a video that they watch for 30 seconds. They are using the products in the real world, often over the course of several days. It’s much more of a time commitment, but it’s also very rewarding because a consumer may provide the nugget of information that transforms the product into something truly special.
At least, that’s how I think of product testing. It’s about as real as it gets in marketing research. And that’s why I ♥ it.
About the Author
Tom Allen (email@example.com) is a Senior Vice President at Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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