The do's & don'ts of concept writing

Concept writing is a key exercise that makes it possible to move from a state of reflection about the different components of a product to the value proposition to be presented to the consumer. This is a phase where what has been elaborated on the inside is arranged in order to be seen on the outside. What is the best way of handling this key phase?

Un concept constitue la proposition de valeur à laquelle aboutissent un annonceur et/ou son agence et véhicule donc les messages A concept constitutes the value proposition devised by a product creator and/or its communication team in order to convey the key messages to deliver to the consumer in order to provide them with the clearest possible picture of how the intended benefits of the product will correspond to their own needs. The pitch of the concept or its subsequent variations must aim to be as precisely targeted as possible, in terms of both content and style. It is worth knowing that our insight and concept writing training can help you to become more proficient practitioners of this art.

Who writes the concept?
Depending on the way in which companies operate, the concept is drafted in-house (in the marketing, research or communication department) or by an outside agency (by a copywriter). It is essential to ensure a good collaboration between all of the actors in this value chain (i.e. r&d/innovation, product manager, studies, agency) no matter who is going to draft the concept. Although an agency has a natural disposition to devise effective messages, the in-house advertiser, via its consumer insight management department, has a much clearer outlook of the consumer tensions that need to be addressed

What is the best method to adopt?Whoever is doing the writing, the concept must invariably comply with the following framework constraints:

  • It must not be limited to a summary of the product characteristics, which would reduce the message to a purely functional medium,
  • It is also not to be seen as an advertising pitch.

The scope of artistic freedom must therefore remain within this framework. Testing of the concept (whether qualitative or quantitative) will make it possible to validate the content and style of the value proposition and thus result in a "secure" communication brief, i.e. one in which the key arguments are in tune with real and proven market potential. Surely no-one today can allow themselves an error of judgement in terms of the direction to take? It is not about curbing the creative instincts of the communication agency, but moreover ensuring that it remains in line with a strategy that is pertinent to both the market and the brand.

There are different types of models for drawing up a value proposition of this kind. USP, CBI, disruption, etc. In essence, these models all offer the same perspective, i.e. offering the consumer the possibility of moving away from a current (unsatisfactory) experience to a future (more fulfilling) experience. This experience may be related to the product itself or to the consumer's awareness and understanding of the category (especially when a disruptive approach is used).

To enable a movement of this kind, certain components are absolutely essential:

  • the consumer motivations with regard to the product or service universe (and by extension the associated tensions),
  • the possible benefits of the product or service (and different from its competitors),
  • the brand territory and its proof of superiority.

In more precise terms, the following "ingredients" must always be included in order to guarantee a palatable concept:

  • The consumer insight (see our definition), which will represent a sort of reference situation showing us where the consumer is now (i.e. current experience) and where they would ideally like to be taken to (future desired experience). The gap between these two points constitutes a tension factor. It is this tension which, if it is truly present on the market, amounts to a real breakthrough opportunity (a.k.a. demand space) which the brand must seek to exploit with its product or service offer (see here for more details of our SMT insight drafting method),
  • The product benefits, which must be chosen for their pertinence vis-à-vis the tensions which are to be addressed but also with regard to the competition and to the adveriser's in-house constraints (production, policy…)
  • The reasons to believe (RTB), which provide reassurance as to the capacity of the product to deliver the promised benefits and for the brand to stake a credible claim via its promise. Ultimately therefore, the concept constitutes the story of a dialogue between two characters, a consumer and a brand. Such a dialogue thus implies that the consumer's desires (conveyed by the insights) are truly pertinent and that the benefits promised in response to these desires are coherent with the values that the brand identity wishes to embody.

Concept testing will therefore be focused on validating and optimizing the clarity, pertinence, credibility and attractiveness of this value proposition put into perspective in the form of a dialogue that the creative channels will be able to translate into a story. Striking the right balance between consumer motivations, product benefits and brand credibility is absolutely essential.

Some traps to avoid!

Most of the traps that we have identified with regard to this strategic writing exercise can be considered as "code violations" with regard to the quality of the dialogue to be reproduced. 
Here is a selection of some of these:

  • Zero insights. The main problem here is that consumers and their motivations are totally absent from the process. Instead of dialogue, the brand delivers a monologue and this will clearly be perceived as such during the concept testing. Such a monologue is often seen as being pontificating, too general, often depicting a lifestyle rather than a real tension factor,
  • Off-target insights. The consumer's desires appear to be misrepresented and out-of-touch. The tensions that are supposedly exploited are not those that truly operate on the market. During testing, consumers will reject the pertinence of the "current experience – desired experience" shift that the brand wishes to offer them, especially when, implicitly or explicitly, this shift is already a mapped-out journey (the insight thus being ultimately perceived as a too obvious construction...),
  • Benefits non-aligned with insights. In other words, a dialogue of the deaf… It is highly likely that consumers will question the relevance and also the clarity of the message, and perhaps even query the usefulness of the entire proposition. It must never be forgotten that consumers are presented with a plethora of offers and so already have a wide range of available solutions to cover their needs. Not only do you have to capture their attention, but also you have to make them want to change their habits – an altogether more challenging mission!
  • Benefits that are poorly selected or classified. Any new product or service offer will naturally have several benefits. Selecting the right benefits to promote is obviously a delicate operation, but is of crucial importance, given that it is all about ensuring that your pitch is as clear as possible, that it will stick in consumers' minds and that it will convey the key standout elements that embody the brand's values, 
  • Failure to provide reassurance. Last but not least, it is essential to tie up any loose ends because all brands are operating on territories in which consumers are ceaselessly bombarded with promises and have as a result become wary and mistrustful. Bear in mind that trust is never given; it must be earned. The choice of elements for the RTB is a key exercise since it must be in tune with the type of arguments that the target audience is willing to hear, with the product benefit claims and with the brand's field of legitimacy.

Making a good start

To avoid these traps it is advisable to establish close collaboration between the r&d/innovation department, the product manager, the research department and any outside agencies/consultants used. Once the appropriateness and attractiveness of the positioning conveyed by the concept have been validated and secured, the creative and artistic work can begin in order to deliver a powerful, effective, impactful message to consumers.

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