Concept Development

Concept development is often seen as confusing, but while challenging to implement it really is fairly simple to understand. You can use the process to test the appeal of a potential decision or as a tool to help you uncover a heart and mind opening way to communicate your brand promise.

The key is to see the world through the eyes of your strategic target audience and start with insights into the drivers of choice. That will allow you to translate your promise into a compelling story that will effectively communicate the benefit(s) your community.

In my experience, the best concepts are no more than 1-page in length. The idea is to focus on the insight(s) you feel have the strongest attention and interest appeal, and translate each into a written concept statement. Then you formally evaluate the concept statements to decide on the direction to take.

For example, if you were trying to make an important decision, you would write the most compelling concept for each potential choice and then determine which is the most appealing to your strategic target. In the case of developing a promotional campaign, you would write a concept statement for the most compelling ways you can think to communicate your brand promise and then have your strategic target audience evaluate the options to help you select the best.

Here is an overview of the components of a written concept statement.

Components of a Concept Statement


The headline is a succinct, one line summary of the concept. It should be benefit-focused, clear and single-minded. Because it is a summary statement, it is typically finalized after the rest of the concept is authored.

Setting the Stage

The Setting the Stage statement describes the problem or need being addressed. It may be a statement of an existing belief widely held by your strategic target, or it may describe a frustration or unmet need. The statement should reflect an insight you have into the decision drivers, and author it in context so it is easily understandable by the reader (i.e. avoid analogies).


This should be a statement that answers the reader’s question – “What is in it for me?” It is the most important element in the concept statement. All other elements are intended to help the reader better understand and evaluate the appeal of the benefit statement. In the case of using the concept to help you evaluate a communication positioning, the benefit statement should be an articulation of your brand promise.

The benefit can either be functional or emotional. One way to evaluate your benefit statement is to make certain it clears the 4D test – Desirable (something the reader really wants), Distinctive (differentiating versus competitive solutions), Decisive (single-minded rather than a litany) and that it clearly Drives equity (supports your brand promise).

Reasons to Believe

This part of the concept helps convince the reader that the promised benefit can truly be realized. It gives credibility to the benefit statement. It answers the reader’s question – “Why should I believe you?”. In my experience, you should have no more than 3 reasons to believe. If you can’t convince the reader that the benefit is authentic with 3 or fewer reasons, then you should consider rewriting the benefit statement. Ideally, each reason to believe is distinctive (don’t say the same thing over and over).

And that is it – Headline, Set the Stage, Benefit Statement, Reasons to Believe the benefit is authentic. Once you’ve authored several concepts, then you are ready to test them against each other to determine which is the most compelling to move forward with. If the project is important, market research is typically used to ensure a reliable assessment.


As with most things, concept development takes practice to do well. If you are working on a major decision or creating a new communication campaign, you may want to consider hiring professional help to ensure the exercise is done well. Also the GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) rule definitely applies. If none of the concepts you start with are compelling, then the process will simply result in identifying the best of the worst options. You need to have some sense of a minimal threshold performance to accept any of the concepts. Don’t invest behind a losing concept simply because it was the “prettiest pig in the sty”. And lastly, you may find the process yields a couple concepts that seem to be equally strong, but appeal more to a subset of rather than your broader strategic target. You need to make a choice on which concept to carry forward or you can try and rewrite a new concept based on what you learned and then retest to ensure your strategic target views the new concept as stronger than the others.

Your Thoughts?

What has been your experience with concept development and research? Do you have any helpful tips or watch-outs that you can share? Did the process deliver good results or was it a waste of your time? Did you use an outside consultant or were you able to do it without help?


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