I agree with the points raised by Ray Furber in his article Test Drivers (MW January 27) regarding the importance of product testing. Two items in particular strike a chord, and these combine to create a dilemma for designing effective product testing research.
The first is the impact of short term pressures on brand management priorities. The second, the need for research to use appropriate methodology to suit each sector’s own unique characteristics
The dilemma arises from the following: it is easier for brand management to exploit results that clearly identify winners and losers. This puts the focus on comparative testing and initial preference.
Long-term success depends on achieving repeat sales, particularly to heavy category users. The focus here is on product performance under normal usage conditions – which tend to be unique to each product sector. This favours a monadic research design, and makes achieving headline preferences more difficult.
Each test methodology has some strengths and some weaknesses, but perhaps the acid test should be whether results are actionable by the people responsible for production.
The majority would agree that the average consumer is not expert when it comes to diagnosis. A general statement such as “It did not taste as nice” may be genuine, but does not constitute an actionable piece of information unless the components of the taste can be identified.
A solution would be to link monadic test results with an independent trained panel assessment. This helps to translate consumer research findings into credible action points to which production can respond.