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Consumer Studies: Pumping the Lifeblood

By: Valerie Hart
Posted: August 5, 2008, from the August 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 4 of 5

The guiding principle behind the preparation of samples is always to prepare more than you think you are going to need. Within the context of a consumer test, the cost of product is relatively small in comparison to not being able to do everything that you would like simply because you do not have enough product.

Unless it is important for participants to know which product they are evaluating or unless they are also being asked to evaluate aspects of packaging design/performance, the samples should be provided blind. This is the simplest way to ensure that participants are only influenced by the product, and not by any assumed properties derived from a brand name or previous marketing messages.

Samples are usually assigned a blinding code, and should be distributed in a controlled fashion with clear instructions about how the product should be used. This might be an instruction of when to use it, how much to use at a time, whether to smell the product in the packaging and/or on the skin, whether to assess the color in daylight or under artificial light, and so on.

Clearly, there is an element of trust involved, and there is no sensible means of assessing whether the instructions have been followed. Retrieving the samples once the study period has elapsed allows measurements to be made of the amount of product used, but even here, there’s no absolute guarantee that the participant has actually used the product.

That said, it is seldom the case that the rewards for participating are such that anyone would volunteer purely for financial gain without intending to assess the product in the manner required.

Designing the Questionnaire

The ideal questionnaire to send to consumers, along with the product samples, is likely to be comprised of a combination of scaled responses to closed questions designed to evaluate the participants degree of like/dislike of key product attributes. These might be supported by open questions that invite consumers to elaborate on their reasons for liking/disliking aspects of the product. It is preferable to keep the questions simple and to limit the number to no more than 20. Any more can overwhelm the participant and is likely to result in less reliable responses.