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Concept development guide

You have a great idea for your next product or service. But do your customers like your idea? Will they buy it?

Our Concept Development Guide will help you understand concept development stages and how they help bring your brilliant ideas to life. You’ll save time and effort by developing a product or service concept that’s a great fit for your target market before you launch it.

Concept development helps you evaluate your customers’ reactions to your product or service before your product launch. It is a structured way to develop an idea, see if customers like your idea, and determine what customer market is willing to buy it.

The concept development process helps you focus on the good product ideas so you don’t waste time and effort on a bad idea. The process includes:

  • Brainstorming to create a pool of potential product or service concepts.
  • Performing customer research to target your ideal customer.
  • Estimating the market potential for your product or service concept.
  • Creating a prototype for your product.
  • Devising a marketing strategy.
  • Performing test marketing.
  • Evaluating your results.

The concept development process will help you prove the market feasibility of your product. As part of the process, you will use customer surveys to help you understand the best product features and ones that need improvement. You can also discover how much customers will pay for your product or test new concepts.

Throughout the concept development process, you will be trying to come up with an idea that solves a problem for your ideal customer. That idea will become a product or service that you sell to your target market.

It all starts with an idea. But it has to be a good one that solves a customer problem. 

Brainstorming is a popular method that creates a lot of ideas, while understanding that only one or two will be tested as a viable concept.

There are many brainstorming techniques, from mind-mapping and storyboards, to having everyone write down their ideas in 10 minutes or less. This type of brainstorming can be done in person or on an online chat tool. The goal is to get as many ideas as possible.

The key is to be inclusive and incorporate multiple perspectives and  opinions. In brainstorming, it is common for extroverts to lead the group if ideas are spoken in a group. However, this method doesn’t work well for introverts who may need extra time to consider and communicate their thoughts.

An everyday event might also lead to a product idea. VelcroⓇ was invented by a Swiss engineer after a walk in the woods made him wonder why burrs stuck to his pants. Under a microscope, he found the “hooks” of the burr stuck to the “loops” in the fabric of his pants. He used the hook and loop idea to create this well known product that is used in thousands of ways.

Brainstorming an idea is the first step in your concept development process. You will use the information gathered in this step as part of your new product development process. But first, you need to find out more about your ideal customers.

Your product or service will solve customers’ problems. But do you know who your customers are and what challenges they have?

Customer research is the process of discovering who your ideal customer is, what their problems are, and how much they will pay for your solution. Creating buyer personas, or fictional profiles of customer challenges and opportunities, are helpful to visualize who your customer is and what they want and need.

One way to understand customer challenges is to investigate what is trending in your industry. Social media is a great outlet for candid customer replies. You can research product reviews, vendor websites, social media channels, and other sites where customers leave comments. Customers state exactly who is solving their problems and what product or service gaps still exist.

Surveys are another great way to understand what customers are thinking. Survey results are broken down by age, gender preference, and other metrics that give you detailed insights into customer behavior.

Some companies are using Voice of the Customer (VoC) research to determine what their customers need. By collecting customer feedback, customer retention rates soar to 87% as opposed to only 56% for firms who don’t collect VoC feedback.

In addition, VoC firms also receive the benefit of 10 times the annual revenue of firms who don’t collect feedback. 

Your target audience may be part of your existing customer base. Their feedback can help you understand products and services they need.  Once you have a concept to investigate, you can launch a survey to your existing customers and similar customer groups that includes questions like:

  • Does our new product interest you?
  • Which product feature do you like the best - or worst?
  • How does the product compare to similar brands?
  • How much would you pay for the product?
  • What feature would you change?
  • Would you buy the product for your household members?

Conducting surveys on more than one concept will help you determine which product or service your customers like the most. You can concept results in less than an hour with SurveyMonkey’s Product Concept Analysis.

chart showing SurveyMonkey survey results

Who are your biggest competitors? That’s the next step in concept development. A competitive analysis will help you understand what companies you compete with and which marketing strategies they use.

This analysis will help you understand how you and your competitors differ. Those differences make you unique. If customers are willing to buy your products because they are unique, you have a competitive advantage.

Your competitive analysis will help you find gaps in the market. These are customer problems that exist, but are not being solved. The concepts from your brainstorming session might fill those gaps and result in a new product.

You can also take advantage of market trends. Do customers have new needs because of the weather, changing economic conditions, celebrity endorsements, or a baby boom? There are many  factors that will affect your market so pay close attention to new trends.

The global pandemic showed gaps where new products were needed. For instance, a metal fabricator worked overtime to make test tube tray holders for vaccine manufacturers. A Swiss company designed a vending machine for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be put in public areas to keep people safe in public venues. A global flooring company designed rug tiles with symbols to indicate where people could stand 6 feet apart and socially distance themselves from other people.

Your competitive analysis will help you market and sell your products better. You’ll know not only what problems to solve for your customers, but if your competitors are doing so too.

Based on your competitive analysis, you will narrow down the number of concepts you have and see which ones have the best chance of gaining a competitive edge in the market.

After you have decided which concepts you want to pursue, you can create a prototype to get a look and feel for the product. With prototyping, you make a real-life mockup of your product. 

A prototype will test and validate your idea, often quickly and cheaply. Prototypes are tangible forms of your idea. They may not even be the entire product, just a part of it, like a box, a handle, or a beta version of a software app. 

Prototyping is a valuable part of your product development process, allowing people to see, use, touch, and feel the product instead of just imagining it.

Prototypes can also be visual designs and other images so you can get feedback prior to developing any materials or writing code.

In the beginning stages, you just need a rough prototype so you can gather input from your team and potential customers. The prototype will challenge your original ideas and test your assumptions.

Prototypes may look nothing like the final manufactured product. Early computers, like the Apple 1, was a circuit board wired to a keyboard. The iPad prototype was a small screen plugged into a keyboard. Over 30 push button phone prototypes were created in the 1940’s by Bell Labs, only to be scrapped until 1963 when a better prototype emerged that people thought could be used in people’s homes..

It may take several rounds of prototyping before a final prototype is ready for customers to evaluate. You can use surveys to get additional input from customers on how to improve the product so your prototypes improve.

After you receive input from your team and customers that your prototype seems viable and there is a market for your product, it’s time to create a marketing strategy.

Your marketing strategy is how you plan to get your product to market to be sold to customers. It incorporates the “4 P’s” of marketing:

  • Product - your brand, product or service offered, and packaging
  • Price - what price you will sell it for, including discounts and your payment policy
  • Place - which sector you will sell it and what channels of distribution will you use.
  • Promotion - your advertising and sales promotion plans

Balancing these four variables is critical to your new product launch and ongoing sales. Your customer research and competitive analysis will help you design an effective marketing strategy.

For instance, some products position themselves as a premium product and have a higher price tag than their competitors. For two competing products, each one might have the same manufacturing cost, but because of their pricing strategy, they are priced and positioned differently. 

In addition, competitors may use different channels to distribute their products because one caters more effectively to their audience.

For instance, Bing may be the search engine that luxury brands prefer for online advertising. Bing’s statistics show that 73% of users are under age 45 and 25% have incomes in the top 25%, making it a better place to promote higher priced products.

Test marketing gets your product in front of customers to capture their reaction before you go to a full product launch. The goal is to understand the market acceptance of a product.

As part of the concept development process, the goal of test marketing is to understand the general market viability of your product or service. It differs from the product development process where the goal is to test the features of the product.

There are three ways to perform test marketing. The first is through a standard test market. With this approach, companies have their products placed in stores in a smaller test market and then track sales for their product. 

Secondly, a controlled test market, often performed by a marketing agency like ACNielsen, will place the product in select stores and then monitor those store’s customer purchase transaction data.

Finally, a simulated market is where a panel of consumers provide first-hand feedback about products. The simulated market is quicker and not as extensive as the standard or controlled test markets.

Surveys are also a valuable way to perform test marketing. Your survey design process can include specific questions about your products to a wide audience to understand customer attitudes toward the product and if they would buy it.

See how to get fast, clear results with SurveyMonkey’s Product Concept Analysis.

In your concept development process, you will also evaluate the features of the product using eight (8) variables. These variables detail how the product solves the customer’s needs, helping you to better market your product.

  • Convenience. How easy is it for the consumer to find information about your product? How much effort is required to purchase it (online vs. in-store)? Does it require installation or maintenance? The more convenient a product is, the more likely the customer is to buy it.
  • Usability. Once purchased, how easy is it for the customer to use? How much satisfaction (or frustration) do they get from using it? Can they easily solve their initial problem for buying the product? Usability affects how well customers accept your product.
  • Quality. Quality refers to how much better one product is compared to another. It may be in terms of how long it lasts, the materials that make up the product, its reliability or safety in comparison to a competing product. 
  • Functionality. Does the product do what it is supposed to do? Customers need products to function as expected to solve their problems. They will judge the product on whether or not it is easy to use.
  • Performance.  Some features will provide a metric to show how well it performs. For instance, “a 10 hour battery life” or “0 to 60 mph in 10 seconds” are performance features.
  • Price. Price is one of the core parts of the marketing mix. What can customers expect to pay for the product? What will they get for that price? What discounts or bonuses are included. Extras like free shipping or discounts for bulk purchases affect the price.
  • Value.  What value does the consumer get from the product? Is the value of the benefits they get from the product more than the price that they paid? Increasingly, customers are looking for brands that offer more value than just the price.
  • Experience.  What is the customer’s experience throughout the life of the product? Will they continue to enjoy it and make additional purchases? Companies are now highlighting the customer experience as a core part of the customer journey in buying and using a product throughout its useful life. 

Over 95% of product launches fail. 

The concept development process helps companies improve their chances of clearly understanding their concept’s potential as a product or service to reduce the chances of failure.

Even the biggest companies, who spend millions of dollars for their market research, can fail in concept testing. Just ask Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft, and other large companies who have spent millions on products that didn’t sell.

Concept development surveys are a cost-effective and valuable way to test your product concept to customers and broader markets. Concept development surveys can help you:

  • Capture objective opinions on your product features.
  • Help optimize your product by eliminating features you don’t need.
  • Test the effectiveness of your brand influence on your concept.
  • Evaluate your concept against your competitors.
  • Check the effectiveness of existing products.

Online surveys have the advantage of accessing a large audience, increasing the number of respondents. Questions are flexible and can be tailored to your specific concept testing needs.

Objectivity is another benefit of online surveys overcoming any subjective bias that may exist within the team. The focus on the survey is the customer and their input to their concept. The result is to give you a clear perspective of your concept’s potential.

Powerful data analytics are included in survey results and summarize the number of respondents and demographics. Survey results reports are easily read and interpreted by concept development and product development teams.

In product example

SurveyMonkey has proven methods to use in all of your concept development stages. Our solutions for concept testing include: