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/

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The Holy Grail in Innovation

Holy GrailWant to get on the fast track to mediocrity and short-changing your new products?  Just compare yourself to your competitors.  Be a copycat.  Look to slightly one up a few key features.    Look to be just a tiny bit better (or cheaper) and what’s your reward?  A slightly better shade of mediocrity.

Instead, what we should all strive for something that’s more elusive, harder to find, yet worth the journey.  You won’t find it in competitive benchmarking.  You won’t find it in mere feature one-upmanship.  Rather, we should all be striving for the bigger idea.  The rule breaker.  The unheard of.  The “did they just do that?”

If you really want to innovate, that’s the Holy Grail we should all be romping through the forest and searching for.