This article originally appeared on forbes.com
Product testing has long been associated with global brands—from automotive companies to makeup manufacturers. But major market shifts have highlighted the need for brands of all sizes to engage their customers within their product development process.
Consumer-driven product testing is now a new benchmark for ongoing product development success.
Today’s consumers are savvy. They’re quick to judge quality and relevance. And there’s no need to fight for their feedback; their product reviews will be influencing thousands faster than you can say “EBITDA.”
The New Role Of Consumers In Product Development
Consumers were already becoming more publicly engaged when the pandemic created a major inflection point. Now, post-Covid-19 shoppers are proving themselves as the new salespeople. According to a report from Bazaarvoice, 74% of consumers claim they’re more likely to purchase a product online if they’ve seen user-generated content (UGC) about it, including photos, videos and reviews. In fact, while 32% of surveyed consumers report that traditional ads “don’t work” on them, an impressive 40% claim UGC as their most compelling purchase motivation.
Brands are still not at the helm. Consumers are selling to consumers—and products usually have one shot at earning consumer favor.
For today’s brands, relying on post-launch reviews is no longer a viable strategy. In the time it takes a company to implement changes to its product, its target market will have rejected it—and possibly the brand, too.
Three Core Benefits Of Consumer-Based Product Testing
Product testing has evolved from yesterday’s measurements of a product’s psychological impact. Consumers have seen behind the curtain, and they’re no longer convinced by “solutions to problems and good feelings.”
And with the average consumer digesting 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, buyers have developed a keen eye for authenticity.
A handful of five-star testimonials won’t cut it. Consumers instinctively look for authentic reviews from real buyers, and consistently high ratings are often tied to the level of a company’s product testing.
1. Today’s consumer-based product testing empowers tomorrow’s product creation success.
For companies in the midst of enhancing product creation, product testing is a reliable north star. Consumer-based product testing generates customer validation on performance, design, comfort and other attributes that predict whether the product will meet market expectations.
With direct and immediate feedback data, companies can refine their products before they hit shelves.
As product testing feedback rolls in, companies may be surprised to learn that their early planning was built on outdated data. The findings from product testing can help companies quickly identify which product features do—and don’t—matter to their customers.
While making changes to a product in development may feel like an extra step, data-informed improvements to a product are priceless opportunities. As product testing progresses, most businesses find themselves modifying their product as well as critical elements of their GTM strategy, including product page content, demand planning and even allocation.
2. Consumer-based product testing drives informed resource allocation.
Pre-market product testing can also tell a company which investments are worthwhile and when resources should be reserved for another purpose.
A recent product test result led one of our customers, an influential outdoor brand, to rethink its planned improvements to a popular apparel style. On paper, its goal of enhancing the pant’s performance through waterproofing made perfect sense. During product testing, however, testers quickly complained that while the pants were waterproof, the treatment that kept water out also kept sweat in, and waterproof performance wasn’t even important for this style.
Thanks to the brand’s testing, it retained resources it would have spent inadvertently disrupting the performance of an otherwise trusted product.
3. Consumer-based product testing creates brand awareness and inspires brand loyalty.
It surprises many new product developers to learn that product testing can be the first step toward accelerated brand awareness.
For a product to generate the right awareness during testing, it must be tested by customers within its target market. While it’s relatively easy to find people willing to exchange their online reviews for free products, this avenue can be shortsighted. When a product is tested by a highly relevant testing community, brand awareness begins occurring organically before product launch.
Trust forms the foundation of product loyalty and brand affinity. And brand evangelists emerge from authentic interactions and great product experiences.
Infusing Your Products With The Voice Of Your Customers
Your customers are the ultimate acid test for your products, and fortunately, you don’t need to wait until your products are launched to get a read on their expected performance. Whether enhancing an existing product testing process or implementing a new one, these three steps can help ensure an adopted process that drives product quality:
1. Make the cultural change - In order for a new or enhanced product testing process to be adopted, it’s important that product teams are aligned with the vision and the value of including customer feedback within their processes.
2. Make room for feedback - With new product-testing technology purpose-built for the product development cycle, brands no longer need to choose between gathering critical feedback or hitting deadlines. However, it’s important to designate points along the product development calendar to collect customer feedback.
3. Start smart - Long-running product testing programs add value across the organization as they support a customer feedback-driven culture and data-driven product development decisions. To get here, start by allowing teams to become familiar with collecting and implementing in-development feedback. Testing current products that are plateauing in their life cycle is a great place to start.
Going To Market With Confidence
Brands that lean into pre-market, consumer-based product testing can differentiate themselves with products they know customers will love. Not only can companies enhance their product creation process, but with product testing, they can also allocate resources more intentionally.
As the solutions in this area expand, brands have more “plug and play” options available. At the end of the day, customer feedback is priceless, and companies that recognize the value of product testing will recoup a significant return on their investment.