Basics of Product Test Marketing
What Is Test Marketing?
Companies offering new products and services want to know how consumers might respond before they formally launch into the marketplace. Test marketing gives marketers a good idea about sales potential and other factors that can affect it.
In marketing, a test market is used to represent the actual market for a product/service. The test market must be demographically and/or geographically similar to the actual market so that a manufacturer/producer can accurately gauge the potential viability of a product or service prior to a widescale roll-out.
There are several methods available: market testing, focus group interviews, consumer surveys, and trade show exhibits. Companies will choose one or more of these methods based on the type and amount of information marketers need, what the company is offering, and the consumer demand that's expected.
Many costs are involved when introducing a new product/service. A company may have to build or rent a manufacturing facility. In the case of a new consumer packaged good, a company may have to spend between $10 million and $200 million for advertising, sales promotion, and other marketing efforts in the first year. The company must also decide where to launch the new product — in a single location, within a region, nationwide, or internationally. Market testing can provide valuable information to help in this decision-making process.
What Is Being Tested?
Test marketing allows the company to test the product as well as its entire marketing program (including the potential ups and downs) on a narrow scale, before launching on a broad scale.
The following list includes elements that are tested for the purpose of finding out what might be good, adequate, or in need of adjustment prior to conducting a full-scale launch:
- Product positioning strategy
- Advertising strategy and tactics
- Product distribution strategy
- Product pricing
- Branding and product packaging
- Budget levels
How Much Market Testing Is Needed?
The amount that's needed will vary with each new product or service. It's also important to note that when the costs of developing and introducing the product are very low, or when management is already confident about the new offering and its sales potential, it may be decided that little or no test marketing is needed.
The decision is not made casually. This research project is most useful when a company is introducing a new product that requires a big investment, or when it is unsure about the new offering or its plans for marketing. Because costs can be high, the decision to engage in it takes serious consideration.
Still, when compared to what it might cost a company to make a major marketing mistake, testing costs can seem relatively small. Even though test marketing cannot guarantee sales success for any product or service, it usually provides valuable insight that companies can use to help determine the next best steps to take.
Test Market Approaches
Consumer product companies usually choose one of three approaches, including:
Standard test markets
Controlled test markets
Simulated test markets
This is widely used for major product testing. In this approach, a company picks a small number of representative test cities where it will conduct a full-blown marketing campaign. It will use techniques such as in-store audits, consumer and distributor surveys, and other measures to gauge the product's performance during the testing phase.
Standard test markets, while they have great benefits, also have significant drawbacks. Perhaps the main drawback is simply that competitors are able to see and to learn about the new offering long before it is introduced to the public. Other drawbacks include:
- They are costly to use.
- Testing can take an extended amount of time to conduct (sometimes as long as three to five years).
- Competitors can monitor or interfere with results by lowering the price of their products in test cities, increasing promotional efforts, or purchasing all inventory of the product being tested.
This approach can be cheaper and quicker to use than the standard one. There are several research firms that keep controlled panels of stores ready for market tests. These stores have agreed to carry new products for a fee. Services such as ACNielsen’s Scantrack and Information Resources Inc.’s (IRI) BehaviorScan, monitor and track individual consumer behavior for new products — from the viewing of product information to purchasing activity at the checkout counter.
In addition to costing less, retail distribution is “forced” in the first week, and that means the controlled test can be completed much more quickly than standard test markets. One major drawback for companies using this method is that even though the research companies are experienced in projecting test market results to broader markets and can usually account for biases, the question still remains as to whether or not the controlled market represents the real market for the product.
Another drawback is that just as with the standard method, this approach allows competitors to get a look at the new product before it is formally introduced.
This can also be cheaper to use and is quicker than standard test markets. Using this method, new products are tested in a "simulated" shopping environment. Simulation provides a measure of product purchase, as well as the effectiveness of advertising messages against those of market competitors.
Here's how it works: The company or research firm shows advertisements and promotions for a variety of products (including the new product that's being tested) to a sample of consumers. It gives consumers a small amount of money and invites them to a real or laboratory store where they may keep the money or use it to buy items from the store. The researchers then track how many consumers buy the new product and how many purchase competing brands.
Researchers then ask consumers the reasons for their purchase or non-purchase. Weeks later, the researchers conduct telephone interviews with consumers to determine their attitudes, usage, satisfaction, and repurchase intentions for the product. Once that's done, using sophisticated computer models, the researchers are able to project national sales potential based on results of the test.
Simulated test markets overcome some of the disadvantages of the standard and controlled methods. Some advantages are:
They usually cost a lot less.
They are completed much more quickly (can be run in eight weeks).
They keep the new product out of competitor’s view.
A drawback to simulated testing is that because of their small samples and simulated shopping environments, many marketers don't think they are able to provide results that are as accurate or reliable as larger, real-world tests.
Regardless, simulated test markets are widely used because they are fast and inexpensive.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD