How to Write Concepts
A well-developed concept is both an art and a science. The science comes from having the right elements in the right formula—for positioning concepts that means an insight, benefit and reasons to believe; for new product or service concepts that means a key benefit and succinct description. The art comes not just from the language used to bring the elements to life—but also the process designed to get you there. Sound easy? It's usually not. The key to writing winning concepts comes down to knowing how to put them together. This article focuses on positioning concepts.
Start with Killer Insights
An insight should be one of the following things:
- A clearly stated, compelling belief.
- A truth about your consumer’s life.
- A state of being that’s true for your consumer.
Insights set up why I (the consumer) need the product you’re telling me about. Sometimes it’s defined as the problem to be solved, but that definition can be a bit narrow—it’s not always a problem, exactly. It should set the context for why the consumer might need the benefit that follows. It’s the premise for the story you’re about to tell.
Getting the insight right is one of the trickiest parts of concept development. That’s because the insight has to be related to the topic or the category—but not about the product. The insight really has to be about the person—that’s the best test of whether what you’ve written is an insight or a benefit. If it’s about a person, it’s probably an insight. If it’s about a product, it’s probably a benefit.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing an insight that starts with, “Wouldn’t it be great if….” The problem with this structure is that what follows is the benefit, not the insight. Any time you find yourself writing an insight like this, ask yourself WHY. Why would this be great? The answer to the “Why” is likely the insight.
So, a well-written insight should have “I” in it, and should speak to what the consumer thinks, feels, or believes before they know about this particular product. That’s part of what makes it difficult to write—you have to know what product you’re talking about, and you have to know the essence of the benefit it will offer. Then you have to “back into” an insight that isn’t overtly about the specific product or its benefit.
For example: “Wouldn’t it be great if I had a personal mechanic to fix all my car problems?” Why would that be great? Because I often wonder if car mechanics are really looking out for my best interests. That’s the insight.
Here are some possible sentence starters that will steer your insights in the right direction:
It’s important to me…
A good test of an insight: “Would other people nod in agreement if they heard that?” If so, you’ve probably found yourself a meaningful insight.
Find Benefits that Motivate
The benefit is the promise to the consumer. It’s something positive they will get from the product. When writing benefit statements, it often helps to start with the words, "I get…" (with the “I” being the consumer).
If you’re in an industry where the buyer may not be the end user, simply substitute the appropriate end user for the word “I.” For example, if it’s a baby product—and mom is the buyer—start with, “My baby gets….” (Although in this case, there is often an emotional benefit to the mom too, so you may have to decide how to position the benefit—for baby or for mom.) Similarly, if you’re in the medical industry—and the doctor is the buyer—with the patient as the end user, start with, “My patient gets….”
A benefit can be functional or emotional—but which is better? This is an age-old question in marketing. While we know that consumers ultimately make decisions based on emotion, that doesn't mean a rational benefit can't work. A rational benefit lets the consumer ladder to the emotional benefit in their own mind (even though they may not be able to articulate it).
But overtly stating the emotional benefit can also work. As long as the benefit answers the insight—and is supported by the Reasons To Believe—either rational or emotional benefits can work. You need to decide what’s most compelling for the product in question, and how the total story can be woven together, to help you decide.
It is often easier to begin with the functional benefit—even if you want to end up with an emotional benefit. Then, to ladder up to the emotional benefit, ask, "So what? Why is that important? Why do I (the consumer) care about that?" The answer to that question will be a higher order benefit.
You may need to ask "So what?" more than once to get to the "right" level of emotional benefit. Each successive answer to "So what?" will be the next-level higher order benefit. How many times you will need to ask varies. But you'll likely know it when you see it (or hear it). Often, it will just feel right.
You want to avoid what we call the “duh” concept. That’s when the insight and benefit are almost exactly the same. For example:
Insight: I need something that can manage the GPS and navigation in my car.
Benefit: Now you get something that manages the GPS and navigates for you, so you can focus on driving.
It’s a good exercise to ladder the benefit up to what’s probably an overpromise—just to ensure you’ve landed on the right one. For example, when we’re working with a pharmaceutical product, we sometimes force ourselves to get to a very broad benefit statement that almost any drug can say, and then look back over the list to select a “lower-order” benefit as our final choice.
It’s also possible to start with an over-the-top benefit and ladder down to uncover the more credible—and relevant—benefit statement. The way to ladder down is to ask, “How?” How would that over-the-top benefit be achieved? The answer to the “How?” is the next-level-lower benefit.
Once you have a benefit statement that seems to be right, you need to do a final check on how well the insight and the benefit match each other. Does the benefit "answer" the insight? Is it the best articulation of what would answer the insight? If not, you need to change one or the other to ensure the link between them makes sense.
If you find your insight and benefit say almost exactly the same thing, you need to change one of the two. Often, it’s the insight that needs to change. In the WATCHOUT example, the insight isn’t really an insight—it’s a benefit stated as a wish.
Almost any time you start an insight with, “I need…” what follows is probably a benefit, not an insight. And remember, one tell-tale sign is if the “insight” is about the product—not the person.
Make Someone Believe
When writing positioning concepts—meaning different ways to talk about the same product—we often have clients say, “Aren’t the RTBs the same in all the concepts?” (Answer: NO. NO. NO.) If you find the RTBs for different positioning concepts are identical, something has gone wrong. Either your insight/benefit pairs aren’t actually very different from each other—or you’re not being choosy in selecting the RTBs that best support each one.
Reasons to Believe (RTBs) are the proof to the consumers that they’ll actually get the promised benefit. They come in a variety of flavors:
- Features of the product, including any technology that makes it work.
- Facts about the product:
- The manufacturing or processing.
- The ingredients.
- The history or backstory of how it was created.
- Or almost anything you might think of related to the product.
- The brand name, the company name, or the name of the owner/founder.
- Endorsements (from famous people, or things like “4 out of 5 dentists recommend…”).
- Appearance, sound, flavor, texture.
To begin, start with a specific insight/benefit combination to create the RTBs. It works best to begin with the phrase, “That’s because….” And try to limit the number of RTBs to around 3-5 per concept (even if there are potentially more to work with). By selecting only those RTBs that specifically support the chosen insight/benefit, you reduce any confusion for the consumer on how you are delivering the promised benefit. So be choosy.
There will likely be one or two RTBs that are very similar in each concept, probably based on some outstanding feature of the product. But multiple concepts should not have a completely identical list of RTBs. Even similar RTBs might need to be worded differently to ensure they best support the benefit in that particular concept.
Don’t attempt to write a consumer-ready concept in one step. Instead, use a 2-step process:
First, write a concept outline.
- That means you have the right idea for the insight, the right idea for the benefit, and the right ideas for the RTBs.
- Write them all down in outline form.
- Check to see if it all hangs together and creates a logical story.
- Have others read it over to see if they agree it’s basically right.
Then, write the full concept.
- Now is the time to write in full sentences, and romance it a little.
- If it’s a food product, add in lots of taste reassurance.
- If it’s a baby product, add in reassurance that it’s gentle.
- If it’s a cleaning product, add in reassurance that it’s strong.
- Don’t add so much reassurance that you lose the main point of the benefit and the specific RTBs.
The Final Concept Writing Step
Edit, edit, edit. Challenge yourself to cut the number of words by at least 25%. The most common problem in concept writing is concepts that are too long and too complicated.
When you think you’re done, ask people who are not familiar with the work to close their eyes and listen as you read the concept aloud. Ask them to tell you the main point. If they can’t tell you immediately—and succinctly—what the main point is, you need to continue editing.
In the end, writing quality concepts stem from having the right elements—insights, benefits and reasons to believe—combined together to tell a good story. And that story needs to be clear, believable and compelling to ultimately incite a consumer to buy. But to get there, you can’t short-change the process. By methodically working through each section of a concept and crafting each piece correctly, you can be sure it’s focused and refined in a way that clearly communicates your unique point of difference to your consumers. Now that’s a reason to believe.
For More Information About Insights or Concept Writing, check out these blog posts:
- How to Write a Good Consumer Insight
- How To Leverage a Consumer Insight
- In Search of the Perfect Concept
- Common Mistakes in Concept Development
Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.
©2018 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.
Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that leads start-ups to Fortune 500 companies through insights exploration, ideation, and idea and concept development while incorporating the voice of the consumer.