Bob Cuneo of Brädo Creative Insight transformed his ad agency into a marketing research firm to more creatively meet client needs through better concept testing.

Bob defines a concept as “a succinct representation of an idea; a positioning, advertising, or new product idea, designed to test its validity and potential, in either a qualitative or quantitative study.” A concept is as capable of identifying a breakthrough idea as in needlessly killing it, if it is written wrong. “Research wisely—or spend needlessly.”

Three types of concepts are positioning concepts, new product concepts, and advertising concepts. While ad concepts are best handled by your ad agency, positioning and new product concepts are best handled by a research firm. No ad agency staff is employed to write a concept – they are employed to write creative copy.

“A concept is an idea… it is not an ad.” Concepts are used to decide if an idea is worth pursuing, while ads sell an idea that was worth pursuing.  Concepts inform a creative brief, while ads are derived from a creative brief. Concepts leverage forced viewing, while ads must leverage stopping power, “must stop you in your tracks.” This is a different job that must be tested differently. Successful concepts get funding, while successful ads sell those products. Successful concepts are developed by a process, while successful ads are developed by a creative team.

A successful concept requires as much thought, creativity, development, and time as a successful ad. Yet we give our ad agencies weeks to develop creative, but expect a good concept can be developed in a day.

All successful concepts must contain:

  • • A penetrating insight
    • An intriguing functional benefit
    • A single, compelling reason to believe.
    • An emotional but realistic benefit.

A good concept development process needs to assist when multiple stakeholders have different ideas and when an aspect of positioning isn’t working. Brädo’s process prepares “single-minded statements written, representing potential, insights, benefits, and RTBs.” Each focus-group participant is given all the components to rate, with the top-scoring items put on the wall, and rewritten on the fly in discussion with participants. Brädo always uses two moderators to lead the discussion, to generate better discussions. If one moderator starts writing down an insight or idea, the other moderator takes over the discussion.

For researching emotions, Brädo uses visual exercises with photographs. “Metaphorical visuals are particularly beneficial with respondents who have trouble articulating emotions.” Sometimes Brädo will have an artist in the room draw new pictures on the fly for use in that and subsequent focus groups. In the end, each consumer picks an insight, benefit, RTB (Reason To Believe), and emotional benefit.

Bob defines an insight statement as “a statement expressing a deep understanding of your target’s beliefs that, when leveraged, has the power to change your target’s behavior. After hearing the statement, the target should feel a bit of tension—eager to hear more and seek a new approach.” The insight is the most critical part of the concept.

Bob says that true insights are achieved rather than observed. Participants have quotes, not insights – the insight emerges from the subsequent work in analyzing and understanding that verbatim quote. From nine focus groups, one insight might emerge as changing the brand. “Listen and put different thoughts together to create that insight.”

A penetrating insight will have your customer stop and say, “Well, I’ll be damned, I thought I was the only one who thought that way.” Bob’s daughter, when given a present, once said, “I never knew I always I wanted this!” That’s what a penetrating insight does.

To develop that penetrating insight:
1. Review existing research to better understand the consumer.
2. Analyze competitive advertising’s strengths and weaknesses.
3. Look broadly at how the world is transforming society.

Bad concepts are kitchen-sink concepts: 3 insights, 5 benefits, and 12 reasons-to-believe. Bad concepts are based on a universal truth, written like an advertisement with flowering language. Good concepts use penetrating insights.  Penetrating insights create tensions: every good story has a villain to be overcome. Make the target want to learn more, because of a connection on an emotional level. It should prompt a change in behavior.

In half the world, Halls is a cough drop. In the other, it is a bestselling candy – even though it is the same product. Halls needed a global positioning that reconciled these and create a single-minded global positioning. Brädo tested 8 insights, 9 benefits, 7 reasons to believe, and 6 emotional benefits to develop the global positioning. Halls is still using the positioning 5 or 6 years later.

A good concept has a penetrating insight, an intriguing functional benefit, a compelling reason-to-belief, and a realistic emotional benefit. Remember that concept development is too important not to use a process.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.