How to test a product idea

Feb 29 2016

I thought the hardest part of working in the Reese News Lab would be generating an innovative and desirable idea.

I was wrong.

Coming up with the product was just the beginning. Testing the product is where the real work comes in.

Our group has found ourselves with an almost entirely different product than the one we began testing with. We wanted to test the product in order to gauge desirability before we got too far along with a product that was not of interest to our target market. We wanted to see if the product was not only something that people believed was a “good idea,” but also something that people would actually use. We’ve utilized the UNC-Chapel Hill campus as our guinea pig.

The first idea we tested was an application that allowed the creation of raw, user-generated content that could only be viewed in a very specific geographic location. The content would be prompted by funny challenges related to the geographic location, and the incentive for participating would be a possible feature in a compilation YouTube video. We saw the UNC-Duke basketball game at the Dean Dome as the perfect opportunity to test our product. There was a very specific geographic location, hilarious rivalry questions to be answered, and a sample of wild fans eager to be featured in a rivalry week video.

Our first step was coming up with the questions we wanted to have students answer. We decided on the following questions: “Why do you hate Duke?” “How many classes did you skip to wait in line today?” and “Do your best impression of Grayson Allen traveling during the UVA game.” We placed these questions business cards that instructed students to direct message their videos answering the questions to an Instagram account we created. We passed the cards out to students waiting in line.

Our results were kind of a slap in the face. Out of 300 cards distributed, we had only two video responses. We were bummed. If anybody was going to participate in this, hundreds of students bored in line for eight hours would, right?

I came to Lab the next day and immediately started to scrap our idea and begin from scratch. When Executive Director John Clark asked me why I was doing this, I told him, “Because we failed. We only had two responses.”

He challenged me by saying, “So? Why don’t you look at it like, wow, we had two responses!”

This made me change my perspective. Instead of looking at it as a failure, we reached out to those who did participate to figure out what enticed them to do so.

With the feedback we gathered we adapted our product and ended up adding an “amazing race,” scavenger-hunt-type element, as we decided that people need more incentive to engage with this kind of content.

We have since been testing this idea by leaving sticky notes with various challenges on them hidden all over campus. We sent videos of them in context to our friends via Snapchat, with the hope that the video would help them to figure out where the note is and to be able to find it.

So far, we have gotten mixed responses. Some people are really into the idea, and some people are not. We will continue to adapt our product according to the feedback we receive.

Testing a product in the real world helps you to predict the success of the product in the future. It also helps you to adapt the product to better fit the consumers’ needs and preferences gathered from the feedback.

Long story short, testing a product is hard. You have to look at all feedback as good feedback and learn to take everything with a grain of salt. It’s frustrating, challenging, and confusing, but at the end of the day it’s rewarding and essential to strengthening your idea.


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