Focus Groups Are Dead

Posted Thursday, March 17th, 2011. Filed Under Corporate - Tips/Tools Blog

This article was published in the National Post, Tuesday, March 15, 2011. The article was written by Steve Cunningham, president of Polar Unlimited, a digital marketing and e-learning agency.

I remember having this conversation with a friend of mine who’s company still does focus groups. As mentioned in this article the focus group of bringing people together in a room is flawed at best. Steve Cunningham provides 3 reasons why focus groups will die shortly.

First, they ignore fundamental truths about human behaviour. He says, “people are shown different words, images and videos and asked to respond to them. The theory is that if the focus group members respond well to these elements, ads that show these things will sell more of your product or service. The error here is the belief that there is no difference between what people say they will do, and what they actually do”.

Second, they (focus groups) assume the right answer can be found inside a boardroom. Steve says, “the ‘insight’ generated from a focus group is usually used to craft a one-way message delivered through mass medium (tv/radio). There is an inordinate amount of effort spend debating and focusing on the right words and images that will be used, and little to no effort devoted to generating a two-way dialogue with customers.”

This no longer works. The internet changed everything. There are no excuses today for not knowing your customer’s likes/dislikes/needs and wants. Facebook has launched itself into the world of business. Today you cannot only target your customers and have a two-way conversation, you can micro-target a group and reach a fragment of your customer base with one message and take that same message and change it slightly to reach another segment of your customer population.

This leads to the last point:

3. It is slow and expensive. This process takes time and money. Sometimes more than your budget can afford. We all understand that to launch a multi-million dollar campaign you want the best return on investment. Steve Cunningham suggests the following: “Emulate your children. Take a day off work and go hang out with a kindergarten class. Study after study shows that children are born with the ability to prototype and respond to feedback. They realize that the only way to understand if something works is to build it and try it.”

So maybe you do not need to hang out with a kindergarten class. Find a way to reach out to your customers and hear the feedback you want. There are many companies that have created successful customer centric two-way processes – Zappo and Dell to name a few.

Steve Cunningham ends with this comment, “the companies and marketers who can adapt to how real people behave, and change their own behaviour, will win.”

Get out there and listen up! The answers lie at your door step.

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