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Going to the Source: Consumer Testing Groups

By: Alisa Marie Beyer
Posted: November 5, 2010, from the November 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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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.