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Going to the Source: Consumer Testing Groups

Alisa Marie Beyer
  • A strong project manager is vital for a seamless transition from consumer test group recruiting to the trial phase.
  • Because a product trial is dependent upon all participants starting their testing at the same time, having all product samples on hand well before the trial start date is crucial.
  • Ensuring that all test group members are comfortable and engaged throughout the process is vital.

Consumers are the key to success in the beauty industry. However, with more than 158 million women living in the United States, how do you know if your brand is truly capturing the attention of so many different personalities and perspectives? The Benchmarking Company (TBC) has found that there is one strategy critical to the launch of a new product or brand—a consumer testing group. A proven component in the development process for dozens of brands, consumer testing groups consist of a representative sample of a specific consumer segment (or target) that tests new or developmental products before they are introduced to the market for emotional, physical and aesthetic appeal. The feedback, responses and information garnered from participants will then allow brand owners to bridge the gap between promised benefits and consumer expectations, and allow you to tease out nuances that, ultimately, will get consumers to buy your product over and over again.

Building a Team and Group

Before you begin your trail, there are several factors you’ll want to address. Start with a few key questions, such as: Will our product inspire repeat purchase? Have I targeted the correct demographic? Does my product live up to the claims (in the mind of the consumer)? Does she love the product? Even for brand managers who initially answer yes to each of these questions, if the conclusions are based only on in-house trials, there is no way of truly knowing their applicability, which leads to a discussion regarding the role of the project manager.

A strong project manager is vital for group continuity and a seamless transition from recruiting to the trial phase. Be sure all participants are well aware of their contact, and feel comfortable reaching out to the project manager with any questions or concerns. Group size is also a key factor, TBC has found that a group of between 100–150 participants is ideal—and statistically sound. And because life keeps happening and attrition is common, it’s a good idea to build in a recruitment cushion of plus 5% or so to allow for the inevitable participant fallout. Finally, be sure to very clearly define your demographic parameters: sex, age range, skin type or any other factor that could influence results positively or negatively. Leave no stone unturned—you want your findings to be as sound and reliable as possible, and even a few participants with qualifiers outside of your parameters can influence outcomes.

Samples: Focus on the Details

While organizational details may not be the sexiest parts of the process, they are essential, and ensuring you have all of your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted will only further enhance the end result of the trial.

Because the trial is dependent upon all participants starting their testing at the same time, having all product samples on hand well before the trial start date is crucial. A good idea is to make sure that everything the group needs, such as samples, directions and release forms, is prepped and ready to be mailed, and that you have correct mailing addresses for everyone before you are done recruiting. Then, once everything is ready to go, don’t just send out a mundane package. Make participants feel special and as though they’ve been chosen specifically for this group by adding thoughtful details to their packages. One non-negotiable is mailing all samples in a reusable gift bag. It’s also not a bad idea to include an added surprise of some sort (water bottle, umbrella, note pad)—nothing too expensive or extravagant, just something to say thank you. These small tokens of appreciation often lead to a higher return rate on trial completion.

Once samples are mailed, the project manager should then monitor the delivery of all packages and stay in regular communication with participants to be sure all materials are delivered. On average, delivery can take anywhere from 7–10 days, so be sure to allow this extra time and plan the start of the trial accordingly. In addition, this added buffer will leave room for troubleshooting and/or re-routing samples should you lose participants before the trial begins. Although at this stage there are many priorities to be balanced, keeping trial samples and the mailing process organized will streamline the start of the trial, and keep all participants excited and eager to get started.

Nurture Your Group

Whether you’re conducting a trial group in-house or utilizing the expertise of an outside consultancy, participant happiness and comfort is everything. One of the most common mistakes is not engaging and communicating with the group on a regular basis, which is where a strong project manager comes into play. In addition to overseeing the clerical side of running the trial, one of the most important job functions of the project manager is to ensure that all group members are comfortable and engaged throughout the process. One of the easiest and best ways to develop this rapport is by utilizing multiple forms of contact. For smaller groups (50 or fewer), a good old-fashioned phone call is often the ideal way to interact with participants. E-mail is also a great option. For larger groups, e-mail will save time and help the project manager keep track of communication, which can be critical when dealing with such a large number of people.

It’s also a great idea to hold a kick-off conference call with the test group to introduce the project manager, as well as the product(s) they will be testing. A conference call creates excitement, engages the participants and also allows you to explain the process and answer any general questions. For individual concerns or questions, always encourage participants to e-mail or call their project manager directly, which will further strengthen their feeling of being a valued member of the group. And don’t forget to reach out during the trial. Send frequent touch-base e-mails that are engaging and fun in order to get feedback on the products and process. Not only will these e-mails keep your participants committed to their testing regimen, it will also encourage feedback—which can be very useful in your final analysis.

Questionnaire: Lifeblood of the Outcomes

The results of consumer product testing depend, in large part, upon your questionnaire. Is it easy to understand and complete? Is it in a user-friendly format? Do the questions speak to the efficacy of your product? Will the responses empower you to make changes to your product pre-launch if needed? For optimal feedback, limit the questionnaire to approximately 15–20 questions that, ideally, can be answered in about 10 minutes or so.

If you’re using questions designed on a rating scale (for example: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree), be sure the scale is comprehensive and speaks to as many outlooks as possible, and always offer opportunities for self-directed answers. Also, don’t be afraid to go with an e-mailed version of your questionnaire. Whether a link to a survey engine or a Word document, an e-mailed version will ensure the fastest return rate, and is generally the most convenient method for participants.

Above all, you want to make the whole process as easy as possible for the participants, so take any chance you get to save them time and make answering questions simpler.

Launching a new product or brand can be tricky business, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative reality. To truly position your brand or product for success, and to side-step as many potential pitfalls as possible, go to the source. A consumer testing trial is one of the best and most reliable methods for discovering these potential hidden problems or flaws with your new product (and maybe even a few perfections) that you may not have anticipated. In addition, consumer testing also helps alleviate the guesswork of what consumers want vs. what they say they want, and helps you get to the holy grail of consumer behavior: repeat purchase. Think your brand is ready for full-scale launch? Without powerful feedback from a consumer testing trial, you may not be as ready as you think.

Alisa Marie Beyer is the founder and creative director of The Benchmarking Company (TBC), a global beauty consulting firm offering business, strategy, consumer intelligence and branding. As publishers of the “must-read” Pink Report and WomenTrends, TBC keeps its fingers on the pulse of the industry and offers unparalleled consumer insights and intelligence. E-mail:;

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