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Monday, October 26, 2015




Successful development and testing of concepts is essential to successfully competing and, ultimately, winning in the marketplace. It enables us marketers to creating an arsenal of proven business building initiatives that drive customer preference to create brand loyalty, grow sales and positively impact ROI. These initiatives span a broad spectrum from product development (such as product improvements, development of new products and line extensions) to marketing mix elements (such as promotions, packaging, merchandising tools, etc.) to strategies (such as alternative positioning options, the brand's value proposition), among other uses. Importantly, as proven initiatives, this ensures accountability for outcomes through a more predictable and productive use of resources.


However, as critical as this practice may be many organizations skip concept development and testing and, instead, proceed willy-nilly to the initiatives. As a result no one really knows what s/he is getting and marketing funding is squandered on non-productive initiatives undermining competitiveness and with it the brand's potential. And, while other marketers and their organizations may engage in concept development and testing they commit critical errors that result in s failure to exploit their potential and/or render the marketing research test results invalid.


For those organization and brand leaders who are not engaged in concept development and testing, shame on you! You have a fiduciary responsibility to the corporation, its employees and stockholders as well as a moral obligation to customers to be a responsible steward of the brand asset and its franchise. For those marketers who are engaged in concept development and testing avoid these five critical errors to ensure quality concepts and projectable and valid test results. We bring these to you in descending order of importance.


5) The concepts are not directed to a specific target-customer segment - Target-customers tend to be an afterthought. The focus is on the idea and not for whom it is intended. What may be a winning idea with one customer may prove to be a failure with another. Without a specific target in mind the concept can neither be focused nor thoughtfully tested. Also where target-customers are identified they tend to be defined so broadly that they are worthless. It becomes impossible to satisfy a broad or ill-defined target as issues such as current usage and dissatisfactions, opportunities, etc. are unknowns or, at best, vague.


4) The concepts are not driven by "legitimate" and "productive" customer insights - If you have not made a conscious choice of selecting a specific target-customer segment then it's highly likely that the so-called insight will be an "unsight," a mere pie-in-the-sky rationalization to fit the marketer's and/or organizational biases. A "legitimate" insight is either a perceived or real weakness of competition, an attitudinal barrier about your brand that must be overcome in order to regenerate growth or an untapped compelling belief. If your insight does not fall into one of the aforementioned three classes then it is highly unlikely to be an insight. If it does then it needs to be productive. By "productive" we mean you need to be able to pay it off (i.e., capitalize on it) with the brand, product, initiative or strategy being proposed.


3) The concept contains multiple, generic benefits - There's no single-minded focus to many of the concepts clients share with us! This is a real problem for three distinct reasons. First, more than likely the concepts will be indistinguishable from each other. The concepts look and sound the same. Second, there is no clear differentiation for the target-customer from alternative options in the marketplace. Everyone seems to say the same things in the same way. Third, while you may be able to execute it on paper you probably will not be able to execute it in marketplace. Why test what you cannot execute? To do so is not just folly but dangerous as the test will not be predictive of marketplace potential nor results.


2) The concept is not emotive - We need to be able to move the target-customer to a specific behavior objective (which, by the way, needs to be included in the work) whether that be switching, trading-up, increasing utilization or frequency, etc. In order to do this we must know the behavior objective we wish to achieve (not articulating the behavior objective is another critical error!). Then we must state the concept in such a way that the target-customer can realize (as in truly and deeply feel) what's in it for her/him and be moved by it. This requires that the concept identify what's in it for the customer, clarify and quantify it! Importantly, it needs to be stated in a way that is emotive. As the late Maya Angelou said, "People may not remember what you said but they'll always remember how you made them feel." Use language that makes the target-customer feel for what you are offering in such a way that they long for it.


1) The concept is not built on a complete idea - It's difficult to write a concept if you do not have a well thought out, complete idea. The reason so many marketers have difficulty writing concepts is not their lack of facility with writing but that they are dealing with an idea fragment I sad of a complete idea. Before anyone sits down to compose a concept one must have a complete idea. If you do not have a complete idea then it will simply be garbage in and garbage out. There will be no big and clear picture. There will be nothing worth investigating nor pursuing.


Boats & Helicopters:

1.  Fish where the fish are - This is about focusing on strategically lucrative areas. Identify strategic opportunities (such as target-customers, occasions, dissatisfactions, problems to be resolved, growing market segments, etc.). It's not very productive to have a compelling concept in a small or declining segment with poor prospects for growth.

2.  Start with the development of a complete idea - Know what you are proposing before you begin writing a concept. Reason-why support, as in features and details, is essential here. Identify and define the target-customer, the desired behavior, the opportunity be exploited or problem to be solved, the promise (i.e., what's in it for the target-customer) and the reason-why support. Do not proceed to concept writing until you have a complete idea to avoid wasting your time and valuable resources.

3.  Tell a complete story - In order to fully flesh out the concept so it clearly communicates the idea in a way that is incapable of being misunderstood, we need to identify WIIFM (what's in it for me - the target-customer), clarify WIIFM and quantify it with detailed reasons-why.

4.  < = > - Less is more! Do not obfuscate or overburden the concept with too many benefits and/or unnecessary reasons-why that do not support the benefit promise. KISS - Keep it simple stupid (we're referring to the principle here, not making a value judgment on the marketer).

5.  Communicate in a way that is emotive - It's not about "telling" but, instead, compelling customers. We need to make our target-customers feel (as in realize) the offering. This is not just about the promise (e.g., product or customer benefit) or the words we use to express it but also the medium we use to communicate it. Specifically in some cases a white card concept will do. In other cases we may need to illustrate the concept so it may be better understood and realized. In yet other cases we may very well need a product prototype for the target-customer to experience it.

6.  Keep the end in mind - The end is a successful launch of a new product, product improvement, positioning strategy, tactic, etc. The journey to this end needs to pass through some major filters. One such filter is marketing research testing. The concepts must be written in a way such that marketing research test results will be reproducible in the marketplace. Another filter is actual market testing. We need to be able to execute what has successfully passed marketing research testing. The one sure way to do so is to test in discreet markets before going broadscale.


Avoid the five critical errors in concept development to put yourself on a footing for developing (not just writing) winning concepts.


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


If you would like assistance in creating, and training your team to create winning concepts, please reply to this DISPATCHES’ article.

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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