The Death of Focus Groups

Focus groups are dead! Today better results can be achieved much faster using the internet and people who actually care. Want to find out which of four ads is better?? Put them on You Tube and let thousands of people who care about the brand enough to watch it tell you. Want to find out what people perceive as your brand? Type your name into Google and see what people are saying about you. Want to see where you can make improvements type your name into Google with “sucks” after it!

In a recent conversation with… well lets just call him an “academic entrepreneur” i realized something that i take for granted in my line of work. In the conversation he was outlining the use of the capital he’d raised for his new business. He was making the standard mistakes all new entrepreneurs tend to make – but one above all else stood out.

“What the hell are you spending money on focus groups for I asked?” I’ll save you the conversation that followed but here’s why focus groups are extinct for intelligent businesses.

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Focus groups consist of a group of people paid to give feedback in a seemingly unbiased field – after all who would possibly guess that the big mirror oddly shaped and hung taking up the majority of the wall is a two way mirror? Is that really smart or telling the people you want to be honest with you that your not being honest with them to start. Big companies, for some reason big drink brands are a massive culprit for this wastage, hire a middle man to bring in a selection of target audience who test / taste the product. View the material for say a new advert and debate its potential.

I used to love focus groups when in college, you would get some free beer go along and discuss new products! In my case on the way in you’d be told by the woman organising that today your supposed to be x age and prefer x brand over y brand – apparently she could find students who wanted free beer! But lets not assume that all middle men are that inept at their jobs. The issue with the focus groups was that they were (/are) expensive time spent on results that were usually way off mark. The four ads had already been professionally produced and they would only air one! The loudest person in the room would influence the conversation and usually people would be polite, giving the brighter side of their opinion – after all the nice people were paying for their time and had incentivised them up. Noone ever stopped to ask why they bothered making up 4 ads in the first place. Today if you put the story boards up on Google, the customers who own the brand will be quick enough to tell you which one they associate with and you can use part of the massive savings in not producing the three (or all four) lemons.

The conversation has moved from a fake setting to a real time live feed of people talking on their own terms. Whether you choose to engage with it is up to you but the conversation will be had on blogs, on forums and social media groups.

So What Can Companies Do To Take Advantage In This shift?

Well firstly they need to be aware about what the current perceptions are. Every company should have and be monitoring the noise on the net about them using Google Alerts or other medium. They should be engaging with customers, openly discussing and fixing problems, rewarding people who take the time to care about them even if it is negatively and even having their own blogs to making it easy for customers to interact.

For example if a customer has a bad experience with a firm maybe pre-internet they would tell 10 people who may tell 10 more – so the text book college talk used to say. In today’s faster pace economy if, for example, an accountancy firm sucks, then there’s a good chance that the community that hears about it will reach much further. Worse still if someone looks up that company with a view to doing business in the future the experience of their customers are much more likely now to find customer experiences – be it good bad or indifferent.

Its easy for a customer, focus group, friend or family member to tell your product or business is great. Its easier than telling you its not great for sure! If you want to honestly find out if you have potential customers, set up a web page, drive traffic to it with adwords, offer benefits / rewards, but ask them to buy or tell you their opinions in exchange for these benefits / rewards and see what really happens.

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