Concept Testing As Explained By Mad Men

concept testing

You’ve probably heard of the iconic TV show “Mad Men,” which follows the stories of high-powered men (and some women) working in New York City during the golden era of advertising back in the 1960s.

In season 4 there’s a memorable scene where the men of Sterling Cooper Draper Price are working on a deal with Pond’s Cold Cream to create their next ad campaign. The partners were having a major issue deciding in which direction to go.

The older men thought they should market Pond’s Cold Creme as the secret weapon to getting men to marry women (let’s remember this show is set in the 60s). However, Peggy, the ambitious female copywriter and in some ways Draper’s protege, thought the firm should move in the direction of marketing the creme to women over the age of 40.

In order to settle the debate Don Draper called marketing consultant Faye Miller for some help. He knew that in order to get women talking about Pond’s that it would be more successful if a woman conducted the market research. In this now famous scene, Miller gathered a group of unmarried secretaries from the firm into a conference room to talk about Pond’s while Draper and his partners watched behind a mirror.

Miller created intimacy in the atmosphere and made it seem like they were all just a few gals chatting it up. They shared intimacies and secrets. In reality, the feedback they received from the women was to help the firm create an ad campaign. (Spoiler alert: If you look at Pond’s now you’ll see that Peggy’s idea ultimately won.)

While this isn’t the only time market research is conducted in Mad Men, this particular episode always sticks out in the minds of viewers because it showed the enormous power of focus groups and how companies use them. This is also a killer example of concept testing.

What is concept testing?

Concept testing is defined as the stage in the product- (or service-) development process where a description of the product is presented to potential consumers in an effort to see how they feel about it.

Some marketers hold that at this stage the product description is complete. Others say that at this stage what’s being tested is more of a vague idea. Additionally, some refer to concept testing as “proof of concept” where companies see whether or not an idea is even viable before moving forward with production.

Why is concept testing important?

  • Concept testing allows companies to understand the opinion of others on their product or service (remember it’s not what you think of the product, but what others think of it). Without concept testing, companies risk putting products out on the market that won’t be consumed. Companies want to know if they have a winning idea before it goes to market, and concept testing allows them to do that.
  • Concept testing also reveals how a product or service can be improved for optimal consumption. Concept testing allows companies to reshape, redefine and refine ideas for greater market acceptance
  • Finally, concept testing can also help companies determine whether or not their idea is viable enough to get some funding.

In reality, the importance of concept testing somewhat depends on what you are using it for.

  • Are you wanting to improve a product?
  • Are you trying to figure out how to market the product?
  • Or, are you trying to see if an idea is worth pitching to investors?

Either way the insights a company receives are invaluable.

What are the different kinds of concept testing?

In the last two sections you may have noticed that the definition and purpose of concept testing has different variables. That’s because there are several different kinds of concept testing that companies do depending on what stage of the development process they find themselves in. Some common concept testing types include:

  • Proof of Concept – Concept testing that shows whether or not an idea is even viable. Can be used to see if it’s worth pitching to investors.
  • Modification Tests – The product may already be created and you’re simply doing concept testing as to whether or not it needs to be modified based on feedback.
  • Usability or Serviceability – This type of concept testing tests whether or not a service or product is easy to use, usage patterns, how different features affect usability, etc.
  • Pricing – Pretty self-explanatory. This type of concept testing tests the pricing structure based on feedback.
  • Migration Paths – Many products and services offer upgrades or extra features. This type of concept testing is meant to test those.

How to conduct concept testing?

Concept testing can be conducted in a myriad of different ways depending on the kind of information you need. The main ingredient is to be clear on what kind of information you are looking for. What is it that you need from your group? From there you can design your test any way you’d like. Some common methods include:

  • Surveys – SurveyMonkey has some great examples on how to use surveys for concept testing.
  • Focus Groups – Like the Mad Men example.
  • Beta testing – Where a select group of consumers test out the product or service before it hits the market.

There’s only one caveat. Some marketers warn against using concept testing incorrectly and naively which can actually kill good ideas. In order to avoid this the company (or whoever is conducting the concept testing) must remember that an idea that is being tested is not necessarily a product, it’s not a pass/fail test and to be aware of the different facets of psychological testing.

Final Thoughts

Concept testing has saved companies millions of dollars as well as made them millions of dollars. Regardless of whether you’re a small business owner or a multi-million dollar enterprise, concept testing is a very important part of the development process.

About the Author

Amanda Abella is an online business coach, speaker and author of the Amazon bestselling book - Make Money Your Honey. She is committed to helping individuals have a better relationship with work and money through entrepreneurship, online marketing and money mindset. Her work has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more.

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