Concept screening tests are research designs that reduce (i.e., screen) a large number of conceptual ideas (e.g., 20 or more) into a group worth pursuing vs. those that should be rejected. Ideas may be screened using traditional measures (i.e., purchase interest), or through volumetric projection analysis.
Surveys & Forecasts typically conducts concept screening after (1) a segmentation or strategic market study has identified new marketing opportunities; (2) exploratory qualitative research (e.g., in-depth interviews or focus groups) that reveal a consumer need; or (3) group ideation or brainstorming sessions. However, concept screening can be conducted at any time there are enough ideas to test that are felt to be judgmentally viable.
Because the objective in concept screening is to identify winning ideas from a large pool of candidates, the screening process and concept format must be efficient. Unlike traditional concept tests, screening designs expose multiple concepts to each respondent. The number of ideas exposed varies based on the number to be tested. Concepts can represent new ideas, flankers, or line extensions, or new uses and repositionings of existing products. Mechanically, concepts for screening tests are more basic than those used in traditional concept research. Specifically:
- Concepts are brief (e.g., 3-4 sentences), and factually state the problem, usage situation, or need, and then how the product meets the need or solves the problem.
- Versus traditional concepts, the state-of-finish for concepts used in screening is low. The amount of detail varies, depending on the type of ideas or the category they are in. Concepts may or may not be branded, or include a basic visual (e.g., B&W line drawing), price, quantity/size, or packaging information.
Concept Screening Designs
The two common designs are “pure” vs. “diagnostic” screening. Pure screening is strictly evaluative (i.e., no diagnostics). It is typically used when ideas are in very basic form (i.e., a few sentences and low state-of-finish), thus permitting one respondent to see them all. For each respondent, concept exposure is randomized, with each concept rated and ranked on:
- Purchase interest
- Expected frequency of use (rating only)
- Other measures (in place of the above) may include need fulfillment, superiority, or degree of relevance.
In diagnostic screening, both evaluative and diagnostic measures are collected. Again, multiple concept exposure occurs, but in randomized groups of 3, 4, or 5, depending upon the total number of concepts (i.e., an incomplete block design is used). Concepts in diagnostic screening tests are in a higher state-of-finish than those used in pure screening. Each concept is rated (not ranked) on:
Same as above, plus:
- Voluntary positives (e.g., likes, advantages)
- Voluntary negatives (e.g., dislikes, disadvantages)
- Attribute ratings (limited list, usually 5-8 items)
- Optional measures, time permitting (need fulfillment, superiority, etc.)
In both approaches, a broad, general audience of respondents (e.g., males/females ages 18-65) is typically used. This puts all ideas on an “equal footing” so that decisions about resources can be made without regard to different target definitions. As necessary, the basic sample is supplemented with key subgroups for additional target group precision.
Sample sizes usually range from 150-200 exposures per concept. Note, however, that the total sample size is driven by (1) the number of concepts, (2) the number shown to each respondent, and (3) the desired number of concept exposures. For example, 12 concepts shown 3 at a time to 150 respondents requires a total sample of 600. Study costs depend on screening requirements, the number of concepts, and the required number of exposures/final sample size.
Other factors to keep in mind when conducting concept screening:
- All concepts should be created using the same format.
- The inclusion of control concepts in concept screens is highly recommended for benchmarking purposes.
- Consistency in format, screening, geography, and question sequence is important for future historical comparison purposes.
Pros & Cons
Pros: Fast, efficient screening tool, with the ability to establish norms over time.
Cons: Unless numerical benchmarks are established, harder to identify winners from losers. Also, concept screens may be less appropriate for products that depend on mood or tonality (e.g., fragrances), or for products that create entirely new categories (e.g., technology).
Cycle time (excluding stimuli preparation) from field start to presentation is typically a few weeks, but this will vary based on basic sample needs plus subgroups screening requirements.
Concepts that meet objectives on specific measures (e.g., purchase interest) receive additional resources and continue to the next stage of development (concept testing). However, it is also possible to take the winning ideas to a round of qualitative research (e.g., focus groups) to better understand consumer reactions, and further develop the ideas.