Rules for Concept Development

Lately I've been working a lot on concept development with several different clients. It has reminded me that I really love concept writing. Maybe it is the English major in me, but I love the challenge of taking a product and finding the emotional hook that makes the product come alive off the page. The process is a perfect mix of science and art. There are definite Dos and Don'ts, and there should be a consistent structure and rules. But beyond that, it's all possibility.

So, here are a few of my tips for good concept writing. These may seem "no duh"—that's because they're so simple, they are often forgotten.


  1. Only one benefit per concept. And don't try to slide another one into the description, sneaky! Multiple benefits not only make the concept unclear, but if it tests well, you'll never be able to replicate what you've promised in the on-shelf product.
  2. The description should clearly describe the idea. The readers should be able to describe the product after they read the description, even without seeing a drawing or photo.
  3. For food concepts, make sure the idea sounds delicious. We often get so busy writing up how a dish is prepared, why it is different and how it helps consumers, that we forget the number one thing consumers want: something that tastes great.
  4. Again for food concepts—make sure the examples appeal to your base audience. Don’t show all high-end flavors. Make sure at least one is a non-polarizing example that will appeal to Wal-Mart shoppers. Remember, you are not your consumer


(Disclaimer: These are my beliefs. You may disagree. Some of my colleagues don't even agree with me on these! So, this is not an official Ideas To Go position.)

  1. I don't believe that insights belong in new product concepts. They do belong in product positioning concepts. But in new product concepts, I think:
    • Insights are distracting. Because consumers don't know what an insight is, they can't separate it from the product.
    • Consumers don't like to be told how they think or feel. Let them tell you how they feel. After all, that's what you're here for, right?
    • If you get the insight wrong, you risk souring them on the whole idea.This doesn't mean you shouldn't have an insight. It is critical that you have a consumer insight driving your concept—you should just keep it to yourself.
  2. You shouldn’t have anything about the company, or “we” speak. Anything like “we bring the best ingredients” or “we do the work for you” makes the concept about the company and not the consumer. I believe a concept should be all about the consumer and the benefit they receive from the product. This is why we begin our benefit statements with “You get….”
  3. Don't put anything in the concept that you can't put on the package—unless you know you’ll have advertising. Yes, your concept may test better, but the goal is to get a product that will succeed in the market, not test well in quant.

So there you have it: Christine's Unofficial Guide to Concept Writing. Do you agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your comments and stories. 

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Emeritus Facilitator Christine Haskins

Christine Haskins is an Emeritus Facilitator and Former Vice President of Customer Experience at Ideas To Go. She worked with customer-centered innovation for Fortune 500 companies across all market categories and industries.