Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Concept Limitations

It has happened again.  I recently encountered a company that placed limitations, or maybe I should say strict limitations, on their new product concepts.  The argument for the limitations is that R & D was really developing copy and not a concept.  Over the years I have seen restrictions that state you cannot use more than two paragraphs in the concept, you cannot use visuals in the concepts, you must show the price of the product in the concept, you cannot use more than 60 words to describe the product, etc.

Consider what the definition of a Concept is, a description of the proposed product or service consisting of attributes and benefits.  Actually I take the definition a little further in that I believe that a concept must contain at least three major elements.  First, the REason for Being.  Second, the Benefit Description.  And finally, the Reason to Believe.

Do those who put restrictions on the concepts know the intended use of the concepts?  From my point of view there are two main uses of concepts.  first, we use them to evaluate the potential of a new product or service before investing the necessary funds to create the product/service.  It is both an economic tool and a product development tool.  It potentially saves money by rejecting product ideas with low potential before major capital investments are made.  It also saves time and money by allowing the researcher to explore various positionings of the product.  It also serves as a verbal road map for the development of the product.  The second major use of the concept comes about in the development of the promotional materials for the brand where a good concept serves as the foundation for the Copy.

But to achieve actionable results, there is one very important criteria for the research.  That is, the concept must clearly describe the new product and the benefits of use.  If the product at hand is a "Me Too" product, there is very little description needed, but as the product moves from the "Me Too" type to the "Evolutionary" and on to the "Revolutionary," there is more and more communication required to describe the new product.

Recently I wrote about a brand that just appeared on the market now but had been developed in the mid 1980s.  That brand is Cascade Complete.  The basis of that brand is to bring a change of habits to the consumer.  In the past whenever the consumer utilized the dishwasher to wash dishes, the consumer would remove (clean) the heavily soiled dishware before putting it into the dishwasher.  If the dishware contained heavily baked on food, it was thoroughly removed before adding the utensil to the dishwasher.  Cascade Complete was designed to remove the baked on food.  The concept needed to state this fact.  At this point the line between Concept and Copy can become blurred.  However, the pivotal point is that the concept must COMMUNICATE the product, change in habit and benefit.  How could you ever conduct an effective USE TEST evaluation of the product, if you did not tell the user about the new benefit.  They would use the product under their current method of dishwashing.  That is, clean the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

If you think the Cascade Complete concept was difficult to write and evaluate, try writing one for a sanitary napkin that contains WINGS.

It is all about communication, communication of the product and realistic benefits.  However, there is a real danger in the longer and more detailed concepts resulting in a greater chance of miscommunication.  In these cases, we highly recommend the use of the SPACE technique to identify and eliminate potential negative words and phrases.

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