Focus groups pretty much suck

The notion that focus groups pretty much suck has crossed your mind.  Only now someone is saying it out loud.  Having spent over two decades in the innovation (new product, new service), marketing, growth strategy, entrepreneurial and industrial design spaces and having sat through countless, mind-numbing focus groups, I’ve learned the hard way.

Here are reasons why the traditional focus group may just be the LAST PLACE ON EARTH to gain game-changing insights into your consumers and their needs:

  • ImageTraditional focus group rooms have are dull, artificial, sterile and have two way glass.  The real world (outside of XXX shops and select Las Vegas venues), doesn’t have two way glass or any of the other features just mentioned.
  • Most groups will have a Bossy-Pants, gotta talk early and often, know it all who sets the tone for the rest of the group.  Regardless of what others think, many respond in agreement with said bossy-pants just to fit in.  Worse yet, others then just shut down altogether.  This toxic stew gains you close to zero in terms of real world, usable insight.
  • People don’t make purchases or decisions in a group that sits around a conference room table.  They think and act alone under real conditions in real settings.
  • It doesn’t help whatsoever that most people have a really hard time telling you exactly what they want in the first place.  If they could, innovation, “the cool factor” and new product/service development wouldn’t be such a damn riddle.  The unnatural, uncomfortable focus group setting only exacerbates this problem.

In summary, if you want to be bored silly, get fat eating too many backroom M & M’s, burn your budget and LEARN LESS THAN YOU SHOULD ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, by all means continue to rely solely on traditional focus groups.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to be bored silly, get fat or blow money, add in some guerrilla to your research.  Nothing will help you see the challenges, feel the frustrations, gain insights and uncover opportunities faster than spending time with your customers/prospects in natural settings where they actually use products and services, experience brands and live life in real time.

More on this next time.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here).  We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping, engineering).  To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

Want Good Research? Need Innovation? Go to the Dog Park.

If you want good research to innovate, don’t go focus group.  Go guerrilla.  Go to where your consumers are.  Where your customers actually do real things in real-time under real conditions.  This is where you can have casual, comfortable conversations.  And where you can make observations and gather subtle insights that consumers would never even think to articulate, let alone be comfortable enough to mention in a sterile focus group setting.

By way of example, on a client assignment several months back, elevation spent a couple of weeks with dog owners.  We went to dog parks, backyards and trails.  We hung out.  And yes, we learned a lot by striking up casual conversations.  But where we learned even more: observing subtleties and taking note of the occasional frustrated look on a dog owner’s face.  In particular, many dog owners tried to tie their dog’s leashes up to trees, fences, park benches, etc. (while answering their cell phone, checking their email, stopping for a sip of coffee or to chat).  More times than not, the leash would slip and the owner would have to lunge after or chase their dog.

From this, elevation created a series of leashes that easily attach/detach to trees, poles, fences, benches and more.  The result: two feet of incremental shelf space at a major national pet store retailer for our client – and a competitor who never saw this shelf space raid coming.  All because we went guerrilla and went to the dog park.

Focus Groups Suck

C’mon, you know you were thinking it.  And I just said it.  Having spent over two decades in the innovation, marketing and industrial design spaces and having sat through countless, mind-numbing focus groups, I’ve learned the hard way.

Here is why the traditional focus group is the LAST PLACE ON EARTH to gain game-changing insights into your consumers and their needs:

  • Traditional focus group rooms have are dull, artificial, sterile and have two way glass.  The real world, outside of XXX shops and select Las Vegas venues, doesn’t have two way glass or any of the other features just mentioned.
  • Most groups will have a Bossy-Pants, gotta talk early and often, know it all who sets the tone for the rest of the group.  Regardless of what others think, many respond in agreement with said bossy-pants just to fit in.  Worse yet, others then just shut down altogether.  This toxic stew gains you close to zero in terms of real world, usable insight.
  • It doesn’t help whatsoever that most people have a really hard time telling you exactly what they want in the first place.  If they could, innovation, “the cool factor” and new product/service development wouldn’t be such a damn riddle.  The unnatural, uncomfortable focus group setting only exacerbates this problem.

In summary, if you want to be bored silly, get fat eating too many backroom M & M’s, burn your budget and LEARN LESS THAN YOU SHOULD ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, by all means continue to rely on traditional focus groups.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to be bored silly, get fat or blow money, go guerrilla in your research.  Nothing will help you see the challenges, feel the frustrations, and uncover opportunities faster than spending time with your customers in natural settings where they actually use products and services, experience brands and live life.

More on this next time.