Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Was it Really a New Concept?

Was it really a new concept or just an old one revisited?  In the early 1970s, I was proposing research in real stores.  I called it "Assessment in Context."  My belief was that things should be evaluated in the environment that the homemaker would be in when she was selecting a brand for purchase.  This was especially true of pricing and package design, graphics and communication.  However, the first execution of In-Store research at P&G involved a Negative Brand Share Test of Toilet Tissue brands.  The purpose of the NBS protocol is to determine the basis of the rejection of a specific brand.  My client for this study was a young R&D engineer by the name of Mike McKay.  The results of the study came out better than we had anticipated.  As a result of the research, a number of Paper Division In-Store studies were conducted during the next three months.  Within the next year the protocol had spread to other divisions within the Company.

As experience spread, we were not only conducting spot tests involving pricing and packaging, we were actually selling experimental versions of brands, tracking the purchases, and interviewing the purchasers and nonpurchasers.  This concept of pre-test market selling of brands was later called the "Disposable Test Market."

Was this idea of "Assessment in Context" really new, especially as it related to In-Store Research?  We thought so, at least in P&G.  Now 35 years later while reading the history of P&G in a book titled Eyes on Tomorrow, I'm questioning the newness.  It seems that way back in 1923 a young man by the name of Wes Blair was assigned the job of finding ways to satisfy consumers.  I his new assignment, Wes went into the field with advertising crews and sales representatives.  He distributed product samples, interviewed homemakers, spent time in commercial laundries and bakeries talking to people who used P&G's products.

For years there had been a laundry behind the employees' lunchroom at the Ivorydale plant; it was used for washing uniforms.  Then, based on Blair's research, it became a laboratory for studying commercial laundry methods.  And 28 years later a young man was given the responsibility for testing consumer products in another Ivory dale laundry designed for household machines and detergents.  I did not really enjoy that job, but that was my assignment.  Thank goodness I started comparing our lab results with what the consumers were seeing in their homes.  That led to the creation of the Home Performance Testing Group (HPT) in 1952.

But getting back to "Assessment in Context," over the 15 years of Researching Research, we found that the environment plays a major role in the test results.  I have controlled studies where one product scored significantly higher than the other in a CLT/Mall test while in an In-Store Shelf test, the loser of the mall test scored significantly higher than the winner did.  Now which set of data would you put your confident in?  I know which data set we used and it wasn't the Mall data.  The most obvious differences occur in Pricing studies.  In-Store research puts the test product in the presence of the competition and their prices.  Why would you ever test in the absence of competition and their prices?  OK, I agree there are times when the competitive environment is appropriate and other times when it is not necessary.

It is our job to select the appropriate environment.

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