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Tested, Vetted and Proven to Win

By: Alisa Marie Beyer
Posted: November 25, 2013, from the December 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

As an entrepreneur, I know the value of a good idea. Ideas are a critical starting point to getting any new business venture out of the dream world and into the real world. However, most entrepreneurs have an idea a minute—and, as we all know, not every idea is as good as is needed to be a success.

In order to be certain your idea has the necessary bandwidth and buy in from consumers, especially at the beginning of the branding process, it’s important to transform your idea into a concept that is then tested with your target consumer. This process gives you the chance to do one of three things:

  1. Validate the idea,
  2. Strengthen the idea, or
  3. Walk away.

Considering the number of new beauty brands that fail each year, taking the time to not only create a rock-solid brand concept but also then test it is a small investment that can yield large rewards.

As an independent business owner, I have always spent a minimum of $50,000, and often significantly more, to make sure my idea has the legs it needs to succeed before I invest the “real” money every new brand or product requires. And that amount is a small stake; larger companies can spend into the millions before the idea is signaled to be a go.

Successful concepts pique the consumer’s curiosity and create initial interest in your product while also distilling critical information to the brand manager and executive team about what is or isn’t working with your big idea and why. By gathering this information up front, before any dedicated product development and branding strategy is finalized, you can save time, glean critical consumer insights and, ultimately, set your new brand up to make money and be successful.

The Concept

Would Cinderella’s story have been as exciting if, rather than a glass slipper, she was wearing a pair of gardening clogs? Or perhaps tatty old beach flip flops? Or what about Harry Potter—would his epic win over Voldemort have been as exciting if his wand were a diamond-encrusted hula hoop? The elements that go into making a story a success are the very same elements needed to craft and tell your brand’s story in a successful concept.

What is different, unique and pivotal about your brand? How does this set you apart from your competition? What creative, enticing element will consumers bond with—and remember—as a key element of your brand? With all of the options available in the beauty marketplace today, consumers are becoming more and more discerning in their choices, and are seeking out reasons to believe in your brand over the one right next to it on the shelf. Your brand concept is the blueprint for these reasons and your first stab at getting all the elements that matter right.

So what are these elements? Although each brand concept is unique, there are certain elements that translate across all categories, and which I have found help lead to success. Namely, a differentiated brand story, an actionable point-of-difference that consumers can embrace and react to, multiple name and tagline options to help flesh out your vision, a clear explanation of your technology or proprietary complex, and an overview of your intended launch portfolio.

Although not finalized, testing preliminary versions of each of these elements gives you the permission you need to hone and tighten each component into a truly winning overall brand identity. Here are a few key questions to ask your consumer to help determine if your product concept is a winner or dud.

  1. Would you invest in this idea?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. How much do you like the idea of this product?
  4. Would you buy this product?

One final thought on concepts—keep them clear, concise and interesting. Too long of a concept causes participants to lose interest; too bland of a concept leaves her feeling bored; and too preachy of a concept simply turns her off. Speak to her like you would like someone to speak to you.

The Test

Once your concept is written, the next step is to take all of this preliminary work and share it with your consumer for initial feedback and gut-check reactions. Does she love your never-seen-before ingredient complex, or does that element barely move the needle? What about all those brilliant names your creative team spent hours creating—yay or nay? When in the midst of all the creative work, it’s easy to think all the elements you are creating for the brand concept are (of course!) going to be a hit with consumers, but until she’s seen, read and reacted to it directly, the real truth is, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Today, getting this feedback is more important than ever. Many advanced options exist that allow for a very rich consumer interaction beyond the static, yes-or-no questions in a survey, and in particular, programs that allow consumers to interact directly with your idea, no filters, such as “text highlighting.” A program that enables the computer mouse to be used like a highlighting pen, text highlighting presents participants with the concept and asks them to identify what they like or dislike via highlighting, yielding completely organic feedback that clearly illuminates what parts of the concept are successful—and what parts need more work. A similar program exists for use with photos, allowing consumers to rank the images, perhaps from mood boards or packaging renderings, for their appeal and allowing the images that are going to be most successful for your brand to float to the top.

By allowing consumers to identify which elements, both written and visual, they like and prefer organically—versus choosing which phrases you want to test and then asking consumers to rank them—an even more comprehensive understanding of your concept’s strengths and weaknesses emerges, and consequently, so too does an even stronger brand or product.

The Follow-through

After investing your time, effort, energy and creativity into creating a concept, and then vetting it with consumers, you will be left with a plethora of information, some of it potentially conflicting with or even negating your original vision or idea.