You have identified a market opportunity, your product concept sounds solid, and you have invested considerable time, money, and resources to make your product launch a success. But the market today is highly competitive and volatile. Customers are spoilt for choice, and after the COVID-19-led pandemic, brand loyalty has been greatly disrupted. So, how do you ensure a return on your investment? The answer is product testing.
When it comes to launching a new product in the market, a lot of factors need to be considered like –price, customer expectations, uniqueness, product value, etc. Even if you have a great product, it might be ahead of its time and not in tune with the current market's demand, like how Google faced disappointing sales and discontinued the Google Lens in 2018.
According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched each year, out of which 95% fail. Testing is the chance to get a product out into the market with data-backed insights instead of relying on intuition and guesswork.
What is Product Testing?
Product Testing is a process in which the performance of a product (or more) is tested by exposing it to a set of respondents. Product Testing is done for various reasons like communicating the purpose of a new product, increasing customer centricity, identifying weaknesses, avoiding redevelopment from scratch, etc.
In a survey, product tests can be conducted using mainly two survey designs – Monadic and Sequential Monadic
Why is Product Testing necessary?
67% of consumers report they shop differently now due to COVID-19(Source: Nielsen)
The consumption pattern of consumers has varied and evolved. But, the COVID-19-led pandemic accelerated this change. Consumers prioritized purchasing products that catered to basic needs like food and hygiene products. This period of contagion led to economic uncertainty and self-isolation, which in turn boosted preference shifts and increased the adoption of products accessible online.
As a brand, developing a new product is already a ginormous task. In a highly competitive market, successfully garnering the consumer's attention is also as uncertain as a comet. And trying to analyze the mindset of the consumers in the post-pandemic era may quickly become an extremely resource-rich and time-consuming exercise if not appropriately planned.
The biggest problem companies encountered when launching a new product is lack of preparation(Source: Harvard Business School)
Improper market research can kill an innovative product.
Let’s look at some examples
Many brands successfully launched flavored lip balms, like- Burt's bees, ChapStick, etc., and have a significant consumer base. But Cheetos learned the hard way that not all popular flavors can be converted into a lip balm. Even though Cheetos has been a popular snack, which takes us right back to childhood with every bite, the Cheetos-flavored lip balm did not stick with customers.
The launch of the New Coke resulted from losing market share to Pepsi. Coca-Cola changed its drink's formula for the first time after 99 years. After facing backlash, Coca-Cola reintroduced the older formula.
Frozen kitchen entrees are a boon in this faced paced life. And a lot of brands have successfully gained a significant market share, like- Mc Cain, Amy's, Lean Cuisine, etc. Colgate wanted to venture into this area which was far from its expertise. Consumers did not find meals to be an appetizing idea as they associated Colgate as a trusted toothpaste brand.
Zune by Microsoft was launched as a competitor to Apple'sApple's iPod. It failed to garner popularity due to poor marketing and the lack of distinguishing features.
Amazon tried to venture into the smartphone market with the Fire Phone in 2014, but it was discontinued the following year. The unique feature of 3D face scanning was considered as a gimmick by consumers and they felt the phone was too overpriced and mediocre. The smartphone was also not accessible by everyone as it was only released on AT&T.
These examples remind us how perception, attitude, and feelings play a major role when it comes to the interpretation of a brand's message. Product failures don't just burn a huge hole in the pocket but also have the capability of ruining a brand's image. Amazon ended up bearing $170 million in losses!
Suppose you're trying to develop an innovative product or venture into a new area. In that case, it is important to consider the multiple factors your product is vulnerable to. These market failures could have easily been avoided if Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, Colgate, Microsoft, and Amazon had conducted product tests to predict how their products would perform once launched in the market.
On average, the cost of launching a new product is in the neighbourhood of $15 million(Source: Forbes)
Even though consumers have increased their spending as a form of post-pandemic 'revenge spending,' they have also lost the patience to wait for a product from a specific brand if out of stock. This disruption in brand loyalty poses a high risk to revenue and product adoption. But, it is also an opportunity if you play your cards right.
Product Testing Approaches
Product Testing is critical to assure success in this volatile and highly competitive market. To develop winning formulations it is necessary that you evaluate what the customers feel about your product. Getting consumer feedback not only makes your consumers feel heard and catered to, but it streamlines your market research. This helps you direct your resources and time in the right direction. This kind of exercise also helps you get a sense of your competition and the market dynamics.
Brands primarily use two product testing approaches – In-Home User Test (IHUT) and Central Location Test (CLT).
In-Home User Test (IHUT)
In this type of product test approach, the products that need to be tested are sent to the respondent's home. The test takes place inside the respondent's natural environment. The respondent uses the product and shares feedback and experiences during and/or after the test. Post-COVID-19, brands have shifted to online platforms to conduct IHUTs. IHUTs are mainly used at a later stage of the research study when the product needs to be tested over extended periods of time.
Central Location Test
Respondents are pre-recruited and invited to a central location to take the product test in a controlled environment. They share their feedback and experiences at the chosen place itself. It is mainly used at an early stage of the research study when the evaluation needs to be done in a highly controlled environment.
The main disadvantages of using IHUT and CLT for product testing :
- Lack of reliability
- They are expensive
- They are difficult to run
- It can be time consuming
- Sampling of respondents is tedious
Behavioral Research- Your Ace Card!
Behavioral research is used to analyse and collect data about an individual’s (or a group of respondents’) social behavior. It gives a better understanding of the individual’s psychological and emotional triggers. You can get insights into what the individual truly feels by tapping into the subconscious behaviour of the individual. These insights can be used by brands to understand their customers better.
Behavioral research is not new. The study of human behavior is over 100 years old, and Sigmund Freud gave us deep insights stating that most human behavior is unconscious.
We can affect people's behaviour without limiting it by using nudges, which are subtle interventions based on psychological and economic understanding.(Source: McKinsey)
Brands frequently believe that conducting behavioural research requires specialised tools, highly skilled personnel, extra funding, and more time. Additionally, brands are limited by their fear of failure while conducting behavioural research for the first time. What they fail to realise is that their reliance on intuition rather of concrete data makes them more susceptible to failure and financial loss.
The influence of factors developed from behavioural science on repeat sales transactions was 44% greater.(Source: Raconteur)
New Coke showed promise in its market research. It failed mainly due to the dependency of traditional market research on the answers provided by consumers. It doesn't consider limiting factors like bias, generosity error, emotions, perception, interpretation, etc. It is tough to segregate the genuine answers from the responses that are not.
Behavioral analysis reduces and eliminates these problems. This Modern Research method, which integrates facial coding and eye tracking on an online platform, paves the way for brands to understand their customers subconsciously without relying on hardware or logistics.
Carl-Herman Hjortsjö created the facial action coding system in the late 1960s, and Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen popularised it in the 1970s. Facial movements are primarily used to assess a person's facial expressions. This is done to determine the person's emotional response and gain a deeper understanding of their feelings.
These motions are divided into "Action Units" (AU), each assigned a number and denoting a change in one or more facial muscles.
When a respondent tests a product, the facial expressions are recorded. Frame-by-frame analysis of these motions provides information about the respondent's emotional experience during the test.
It measures, analyses, and interprets data based on where the eye is looking. Understanding the interaction between the brain and the visual system sparked interest in this methodology.
Eye movements can be divided into two categories :
1) Fixations: During these brief pauses in eye movement, the retina stabilises at a particular location in the visual field.
2) Saccades – These fast eye movements depend on eyeballs moving from one location to another and happen in between fixations.
The respondent's visual path is clearly understood by the eye movement. Additionally, it makes it simple to identify the product's focal points, enabling evaluation of the places that will attract the most attention.
Brands are sceptical about adopting Behavioural Research even though it gives in-depth insights that are scalable and reliable. Brands may feel that trying out a new method is like walking in uncharted territory, but brands need to evolve with time and get over their false sense of security. Behavioral Research may be out of your comfort zone, but it has made headway at some brands.
Entropik Tech provides lab-level precision while making facial coding and eye tracking incredibly accessible and simple to use with the aid of webcams or smartphone cameras. These AI technologies are democratising behavioural research and making it a required methodology in research investigations because of their easy accessibility and lack of hardware requirement.
The Right Product Test Strategy
Now that you have a basic understanding of why product testing is crucial, let's look at how to organise your approach:
Choose the appropriate time to test your product
As a brand, you may assume that pre-testing is the best way to evaluate your product, especially if you want to analyse your competitors. However, there are circumstances in which a post-test is your best course of action, particularly if you wish to do a comparison with your previously released products.
Decide who you want to reach
You should be careful while choosing your target market. Knowing your respondents' demographics—their age, gender, etc help you avoid bias and obtain answers that are trustworthy and useful.
Select the metrics you want to assess
Concentrate on finding out the information you need about your customer. Do you wish to know whether you succeeded in getting their attention? Or are you interested in finding out if they might actually relate to the information? Before you start the product test, ask yourself these questions.
There are a lot of things to consider while designing your campaign. For example- the total number of products shown to the respondents, the screening, pre and post-survey questions, the types of questions, the duration of the test etc. Relevant questions should be used, and a maximum of 3-4 products should be added to each test to avoid fatigue.
Related Read- The Ultimate Guide to Survey Question Types!
Incorporate Behavioral Research
Incorporating behavioral research will give you a competitive edge and enable you to effectively carry out market research. This will help you not only save money but optimally use your time and resources.
Select your mode of transmission
This is a crucial step. For example-Making sure your campaign is device friendly and has a low loading time will help you get more responses as fewer respondents would drop-off. Evaluate your options and analyse how you can optimise the campaign's testability suited for your target audience.
Product Testing is a great way to know your brand’s message will be perceived by your consumers. Complementing it with Behavioral Research will help you tap into the subconscious mind of your customers and get scalable, accurate and actionable results.
Using Entropik Tech’s quantitative and qualitative research platform you will be able to access behavioural research, conduct preliminary tests, utilise the global emotion benchmark score for better competitor analysis, run surveys in over 17 languages and use over 22 survey question types, to conduct effective product tests with ease.
 Białowąs, Sylwester, and Adrianna Szyszka. “Eye-tracking in Marketing Research.” Managing Economic Innovations-Methods and Instruments (2019): 91-104.