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Tips to Pump Up Your Brainstorming and Concept Testing Sessions

Every day in offices and cyber-meetings all across the world, product management teams and innovation gurus are brainstorming new ideas for products and services.

But how effective are their brainstorming efforts? And how many of their new concepts really succeed in the real marketplace?

Learn how to improve your brainstorming as well as your new concepts to convert more of your ideas into real revenue gains.

Better brainstorming

How about our first question: how effective are most brainstorming efforts?

Well, the answer is mixed. On the one hand, almost any type of brainstorming session provides some general benefits such as:

  • Spotting industry trends
  • Cross-department knowledge sharing
  • Out-of-the-box thinking
  • And other useful results derived from collaborative thinking

On the other hand, most brainstorming sessions fall short of their maximum potential, and they often result in a laundry list of ideas that struggle to find a champion.

McKinsey offers some practical ways to improve your brainstorming in this article entitled: “Seven Steps to Better Brainstorming.” In it, the authors suggest the following ways to maximize results from your next session:

  1. Know your decision-making criteria (and your action standards). What are your limitations or restrictions? What does an acceptable idea look like?
  2. Ask the right questions. Come up with questions that force your team to attack problems from a different perspective. Develop a list of questions that they can answer in the brainstorming process, such as “Who uses our product?” and “How do they use it?”
  3. Choose the right people. Find people who can answer the questions you’re asking. You may need to choose people with firsthand knowledge.
  4. Divide and conquer. Create numerous, concentrated idea-generating subgroups that focus on a single question for a limited amount of time.
  5. Prepare, guide, and go. Orient the groups with clear goals in mind. Prepare them for the likelihood that their session may only generate 2 or 3 good ideas. Perseverance is a key component to successful brainstorming sessions.
  6. Wrap it up right. After the end of a brainstorming session, have each subgroup to narrow down its list of ideas to a top few and then share them with the rest of the group. Don’t choose a winner just yet, and close the session on a high note.
  7. Follow up quickly. The odds that concrete action will result diminish significantly over time. Communicate the results with everyone involved in the decision-making process.

While this process may not be the right fit for everyone, it certainly is a great jumping-off point for your next brainstorming session. Remember to create an environment that encourages creativity and where problems can be viewed from new and unusual perspectives.

Better concepts

Ok, now that you’ve generated a great list of new ideas from the brain trust, it’s time to leverage the power of market research to determine which products should make it all the way to the buying public.

As the scope of this blog post is somewhat limited, we’ll cover this question at a high-level and focus on 3 research steps that can yield winning concepts.

Step 1: Scan social media
This first step just makes good common sense. If you had a way to listen in on millions of conversations about your customers’ needs and opinions about your offerings, wouldn’t you stop and listen? Even if your concepts are radically new and different from anything that’s currently in the marketplace, a social media scan will often yield ideas and insights that make both your research and your final concepts much stronger.

Step 2: Test your concepts using qualitative research
It has become standard practice to use qualitative research to conduct initial concept tests. Most often, in-person focus groups are the method of choice. However, in the last 2 to 3 years many new, and often better, methods have become available.

  • Online focus groups: These allow researchers to quickly and easily recruit participants from around the country (and the world). The downside is the lack of real interpersonal communication.
  • Online communities: These also allow researchers to quickly and easily recruit participants. At FGI Research, we also include quantitative research during the online community sessions. This way, we combine the benefits of qualitative and quantitative research during the early stages of concept testing.

At the completion of the qualitative research, you should be in position to refine and prioritize your concepts. The research should allow you to develop an effective design for your next step, quantitative research.

Step 3: Test your concepts using quantitative research
As you move closer to the go or no go decision point (or product “gate”), and multi-million dollar investments must be made, it is time to conduct quantitative research that provides the hard data you need to make the right concept choices.

Well-designed quantitative research, such as concept tests and awareness and usage studies, along with predetermined action standards (when and why a concept should continue to advance, or clear a gate) and available normative data (characterizes what is usual in a defined population at a given time) provides empirical information for selecting the very best concept out of a defined set of choices.

At the completion of the quantitative research, you should have the data and recommendations required to decide which (if any) of the concepts should continue. When action standards and normative data (how similar concepts previously tested and performed in market) are used in tandem with the research data, you can be confident in your concept selection and decision.

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David W. Wilson
David W. Wilson
David W. Wilson

David Wilson has over 25 years of experience helping leading companies improve their marketing results using digital marketing, direct marketing, database marketing, consumer data, predictive analytics and marketing research.