“In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” – Carl Sagan, Astronomer

Creating new products can be complex but it is not as complicated as the above quote suggests. Rather, I think new products need to withstand a feasibility test, also known as a concept test. This feedback is critical for a new offering.

Sadly, most entrepreneurs don’t properly test their ideas. Former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki joked that at Apple that new products only required a funky name, a few thousand t-shirts, and a media blitz—then they would figure out what the product’s
specifications would be. Apple is greatly admired for innovation, but I wonder if they might even be more successful if they did more concept testing.

Concept testing can use qualitative or quantitative research methods; most commonly, qualitative tools such as in-person interviews and focus groups are chosen for their expediency and live feedback. Essentially, prospective customers are given an early viewing of an offering to assess their reactions before the provider invests more money in the new offering. It forces the entrepreneur to expose the offering to the customer base to solicit real feedback. The test verifies that the benefits of the offering are recognized and valued by the customer. This feedback is essential but sometimes difficult for the entrepreneur to accept, particularly if the feedback is negative.

Sometimes, the test identifies problems such as possible confusion about how the product is positioned with competing products. Often the marketing messages are still in draft form, so this concept test also assists in refining the basic messaging. In fact, concept tests are frequently performed for advertising campaigns to verify that the target customer can understand the benefits of the products.

However, concept testing may not be a good indicator of purchasing behavior. Just because someone understands the benefits of a new product and even admits to liking the product, it does not mean that they will buy it. Additionally, concept testing may identify product attributes that are significant but this type of research can struggle to assess which attribute is more important.

Concept tests typically try to answer the following questions:
1. What is unique about this new product or service concept?
2. How does it compare to competitive offerings?
3. How might it benefit the customer?
4. What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of the new product or service concept?
5. Would the customer buy the product?

Ironically, many startups and entrepreneurs go to market without conducting a concept test; instead, because of their strong belief in the product or service concept they often elect to skip this step. The ramifications are many including failure.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

About the author
  1. Travis Lindsay

    What about using a test market as your feasibility test?

    Selling your product(s) to a small, representative version of your overall market seems like it would be the best way to test feasibility. By starting out small you will reduce your risks and costs and you will be able to fine tune your offering.

    If you’re thinking about opening up a restaurant rent out a food trailer and sell some of your dishes out of that. If you want to open a website launch it with only a couple of the main features at first. If you want to open up a fitness studio start out by doing some house calls.

    I’m not counseling someone to go off half-cocked and start a business they haven’t researched and planned for. I understand that there are some great insights to be had from doing focus groups and sending out questionnaires but the ultimate feasibility test, in my mind, would be to launch your business on a small scale and see how things work out. That way you are dealing with actual customers who actually want what you are offering.

  2. Travis Lindsay

    Why only use Apple as an example of a company not using feasibility testing? The biggest company today not using feasibility testing would have to be Google. They give their engineers something like 20% of their time to just work on “side projects.”

    When I first read about this I thought it was a wonderful idea (and, for the most part, I think it is a plus overall for them). But then I got to thinking about how previous companies have gotten themselves into trouble by only thinking about their products and not their market.

    When a company’s main objective is to build “cool” things and not serve their customers they have lost their way. I wonder how Google would be different if they took some time to test out whether or not the public even wants what their engineers are making.

    Do you think they would be better – or worse – off?

  3. Your suggestion of a small segment as a test is a good idea. My point was that many entrepreneurs do no testing at all.

    Web-based firms do approach testing in a different way and Google is no exception. It seems that consumers are tolerant of new web or software products that have bugs and gladly help debug them. Many of these products are really “beta” products when first release—-user beware.

    In other industries, we are far less tolerant. Would you want to debug a new car? I don’t think so.


Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formSubmit

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.