Guidelines for Consumer Testing - guidance from ESN members

In this series ESN members give their solutions to the most frequently asked questions from product developers and marketers.


Does the taste match the concept?

In an innovation process it is important to develop a product marketing concept that creates high initial purchases. However, Olaf Biedekarken of the German sensory and consumer research company isi warns, “to assure that the product purchase is repeated, the marketing concept should also be based on an optimised sensory product recipe that at the minimum meets and ideally exceeds the expectations of the target group."


The secret of successful products is based on a high correspondence between the marketing concept, which from the consumer point of view causes defined expectations, and the product itself, which needs to fulfil these expectations. Taking this interaction into account, a high repurchase rate and therefore a successful product launch will be achieved.

Biedekarken goes on to observe that, “In practice, marketing departments and R&D departments sometimes work in isolation from each other.“ He calls this approach „misleading, since even the best concept and the best design can result in a product 'flop' if both elements do not fit well together.“ If the sensory experience caused by the intrinsic product attributes and the expectations raised by the extrinsic product attributes are not successfully co-ordinated, product success is not very probable.

Biedekarken suggests that, „Instead of individually optimising the sensory product and the marketing concept, both tasks should be done in an integrated way“. According to his experience this is the only way to optimally combine the product’s sensory and informational-promotional aspects.

  • Which intrinsic attributes (e.g. appearance, flavour) and which extrinsic attributes (e.g. packaging, brand) are responsible for consumers’ preferences or rejections of product innovations?
  • What is the impact of product expectation on the consumers’ experience of a new product?
  • How can the perception and evaluation of product attributes be affected by appropriate marketing activities?“


Olaf Biedekarken states that, „In order to support the management decisions, we propose a 3-step test approach that will deliver sound information not only about the acceptance of design and concept alternatives individually, but also about the interactions of both aspects“. (It is recommended but not absolutely necessary that all three steps be conducted with the same subjects):

Step 1: a product blind test
that evaluates
a) the acceptance of the intrinsic attributes
b) the impact of intrinsic attributes

Step 2: a concept test
that evaluates
a) the expectation and acceptance of extrinsic attributes
b) the impact of extrinsic attributes and evaluation of initial purchase

A concept test uses a computer-generated design to determine the different characteristics of the concept (packaging, claim, brand). These are combined into holistic product concepts. Potential buyers are confronted with these concepts in realistic purchase decision situations. Their purchase behaviour, i.e. the selection of one or the rejection of all alternatives indirectly reveals the preference structure with regard to single concept features.

Step 3: In a combined test the recipe and all the concept attributes are pulled together to achieve a viable product
A combined test measures
a) the acceptance of the entire product
b) the impact of intrinsic and extrinsic attributes

Finally, a comparison of the results from all three tests will show the impact of the expectation on the experience.

By a direct comparison of the acceptance scores of the 3 test steps, valuable conclusions concerning the product-concept fit can be drawn. Olaf Biedekarken gives three examples of possible findings:

Example 1:
Good results in all three tests (blind test, concept test, and combined test) indicate a very good product-concept fit, and a high level of initial purchase and repurchase. The concept is credible and the expectation is confirmed. In the combined test the consumers' assessment comes up to the expectations raised by the packaging.    

Example 2:
Bad results in the blind test compared to good results in the concept test, and intermediate results in the combined test indicate a bad product-concept fit: in this case the concept is not credible and the expectation is not confirmed (sensory-induced disappointment). The sensory design is bad and cannot come up to the expectations evoked by a good concept.

Example 3:
Good results in the blind test compared to rather bad results in the concept test, and low intermediate results in the combined test: once again, this indicates a bad product-concept fit. However, this time the product is good, but the expectation, based on the poor marketing concept, is low (marketing-induced disappointment). With the good sensory design, one only needs to improve the packaging concept in order to achieve optimal results. Even if the revised concept raises much higher expectations, the consumers will not be disappointed.     

Mr. Biedekarken concludes, „Through the simultaneous development of product quality and marketing concepts, it is possible to identify innovations with product/marketing concept and product core that are optimally coordinated. The main potential of integrating marketing concept and product tests can be seen in the early stages of the innovation process during which many possible alternatives for both the marketing concept and the sensory product recipe exist. This approach allows one to find the ideal combination without excluding the possibility of being able to follow up on promising directions.“


For more information please contact:

Olaf Biedekarken
Institut für Sensorikforschung und Innovationsberatung GmbH
Neuhauser Str. 45
80331 München
Telefon: +49 89 41 42 43 89-0
Telefax: +49 89 41 42 43 89-9

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