I moved so slow, I didn’t know that I was backing up

It’s not that often you see an article about concept testing titled with a lyric from a rock band; even less often a band called “The New Pornographers.” (Note to the Ipsos IT department:  I swear, it’s a band, don’t take away my Internet access, it’s from a great song called Backstairs – sorry I couldn’t find an official upload of the song).  But I thought it was a tremendously valid sentiment as we explore the past, present, and future of concept testing.

The Past

I did some searching around, but it was impossible to come up with a specific reference date for when concept testing (in something resembling its current form) was “invented.”  There were many references to the David Schwartz book on the topic published in 1987, but that’s not too long before I started my research career so I’m certain it dates further back than that.  Concept testing and forecasting specialist Novaction (which is now owned by Ipsos) was formed 45 years ago.  As much as I’d like to think Novaction invented concept testing (and so would its founders), I’m guessing they didn’t – though I bet we’re getting closer.

I’m going to arbitrarily (and very specifically) say concept testing in its current form was invented 55 years ago, because it allows me to take you back to the year 1960.  Here’s what it was like in 1960:

  • Best Selling Album: The Sound of Music by the original Broadway cast
  • #1 TV Show: Gunsmoke
  • Motor Trend Car of the Year: Chevrolet Corvair (for its “engineering advancement: its (aluminum) aircooled engine, transaxle and four-wheel-independent suspension”)
  • Most prevalent television: Black & white
  • Internet: Did not exist
  • Mobile phone: Did not exist
  • Typical supermarket size: Less than 1,000 square feet

And back in 1960, we were testing new product ideas using a concept board:  Showing consumers a picture of a product / some words to describe it, then asking monadically how likely consumers were to purchase the product.

The Present

Here’s the same list again, updated for 2014:

  • Best Selling Album: 1989 by Taylor Swift
  • #1 TV Show: NBC Sunday Night Football
  • Motor Trend Car of the Year: Cadillac CTS (“The design extends to an optional all-digital TFT display that replaces the analog gauges and offers crisp, coherently designed and reconfigurable graphics”)
  • Most prevalent television: Color (and isn’t that an inadequate description of how much better television viewing has become?)
  • Internet: Ubiquitous
  • Mobile phone: Not only ubiquitous, but now smart as well
  • Typical supermarket size: 45,000 square feet

And yet we are still testing new product ideas virtually the same way.  Sure, we’ve moved the concept board mainly onto a computer screen, but the elements, the questions – virtually everything about a test – has stayed the same.  To go back to the title of this blog post, we moved so slow, we didn’t know that we were backing up.  The world has passed our concept testing methodologies by.

The Future

The future of concept testing is about many things:  Holding consumer attention with visually impactful designs; meeting them where they live with our studies; being relevant and differentiated to impact client organization; and, most important, helping our clients introduce awesome new products that change lives!  In short, we need to make the same changes to concept testing that are occurring within the marketing world, to stay relevant with consumers and within client organizations.

These are exactly the topics to be covered at Ipsos’ upcoming 45-minute presentation Concept Testing That’s Over 50% More Engaging: A Webinar About Testing New Product Ideas in a Device-Neutral World.  Being held on February 24 at 1:30pm ET / 12:30pm CT / 10:30am PT, I guarantee it will be the best 45 minutes of your day.  I also hear the speaker is really good, and likes to reference obscure songs from weird bands.  Moving slow nothing, this is about concept testing in the fast lane.  Hope you can join me.