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What ARE Focus Groups?

You were in a meeting and somebody threw it out there. We need some answers and we need them pretty quick. Why don’t we do a couple of focus groups and let our customers decide? Or convene a focus group of the people who don’t do business with us and ask them why they prefer our competitors? (Are those non-customer bozos even worth talking to, really, since they obviously don’t “get” us?)

And YOU – for whatever reason – were handed the responsibility of getting it done. Or at least of getting the answers to a few important questions, such as:

  • Will focus groups give us the answers we need?
  • How many groups are enough? How many should be in each group?
  • Whom do we recruit for the sessions, and how do we do it?
  • What kind of questions do we ask?
  • How much do focus groups cost, anyway?

So here we are. What now?

Will focus groups give us the answers we need?

First, consider whether focus groups are the right tool for the job. Focus groups are a method of qualitative research that investigates WHY people do things in hopes of furthering our understanding of motivations and how to influence them. WHY they go to certain stores. Why they embrace brands. Why they buy some products and not others. Or how self-image could ever induce thinking that inhaling 43 known carcinogens and eventually changing the looks of his lungs from the one on the left to the one on the right is somehow “cool”.

Qualitative research deals with emotions, psychology and motivation, such as what needs your product or service satisfies. And what needs force people to take money to your competitors. Qualitative research involves distinctions – or comparisons based upon distinguishing characteristics. Its goal is to understand the feelings, values, and perceptions that underlie and influence behavior – understanding that will help marketers make better, more informed marketing decisions when they are TRYING to influence that behavior.

Focus groups will help you connect with your market: to become

  • More aware of what is going on with your customers
  • More aware of their patterns of evaluation and thinking
  • More aware of their imagery and perceptions and how those relate to purchase decisions
  • More aware of customers’ likes, dislikes, frustrations and desires
  • More aware of your relative competitive position in the marketplace, as defined by the market

What you do with all of this awareness is what creates your marketing advantage. The goal is to use this information as the underpinning and foundation of your marketing decisions – to develop strategy – inform tactics – that you hope will assist in taking you from where you are, to where you want to be – in terms of profitability, market share and market position.

What Focus Groups Are NOT:

Focus groups are in no way quantitative. They will not answer the question “how many”, such as how many or what percentage of customers will like or buy our new Illudium PU-36 Space Modulator. But they CAN answer the question of what aspects of our new Illudium PU-36 Space Modulator make purchasers very angry, very angry indeed.

They cannot answer questions of “how much” – such as how much better is customer service at one bank than another?

Excellent objectives for focus group investigation are ones such as these:

  • Why do people buy our product? Why do they NOT buy our product? What could we say or do or be to sell more products? What do we have to do to increase our market share, or to increase the size of the market pie?

  • How do customers USE our product? Is it like we think it is, or different? How could we make it even more useful to them (and make them buy more)?

  • What opportunities are we missing? What markets are we ignoring? What’s happening out there that we should know about, but don’t? How are our markets changing? How are our customers’ needs changing?
  • What do customers find frustrating about doing business with us? Why don’t black people, women, seniors, or other demographic segments buy our stuff?

  • What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are we doing right, and wrong? What could we do better?

  • How could we do a better job of reaching (or meeting the needs of) a particular segment or market? (Rich people, women, ethnics, suburbs, etc.)

  • How do people in certain segments communicate with each other? How should we reach them? What could we say to have more credibility?

  • How do people use our website? What could we do to make it more useful for customers, and more effective as a business development tool for us?

TERRIBLE and WRONG objectives for focus groups include the following:

  • If we make this change to our product or distribution, how many more people will buy it? Or would they be more likely to buy it?

  • What would be the right price to set for this product? How much is the maximum price would people pay? What is their choke point?

  • Asking people to come up with new product ideas, or even to pass judgment on new product ideas that they have never seen in use. Imagine doing a focus group of people regarding the feasibility of air travel in 1915. Sometimes people just aren’t qualified to make judgments, and this is almost always true regarding what they are going to use in the future.

  • Before running an advertising campaign, let’s ask customers and prospects what they think of the creative. How much will people like this advertising program? (Focus groups CAN be used as “disaster checks” or to investigate “what” exactly the people think the ad is trying to communicate.)

  • How satisfied are our customers compared with customers of the competition? (They can investigate what people think the competition does better – or what customers WISH you did that you don’t.)

  • Focus groups let you dive deep. Have you ever had a conversation with a child in which they asked “why” after every one of your answers? Children may do it to put off their bedtime, but focus group moderators do it for enlightenment!

Because if moderators can answer the question of “why” customers buy or don’t buy a product and provide their clients with that understanding, all of a sudden the job of marketing the organization just got a lot easier; the motivating issues just became clearer.

Focus groups provide foundational understanding that can help you make better,

more informed, more relevant, and more successful marketing decisions. You will think in terms of customers’ needs – see the world through their eyes – use words customers use in real life – and position your product in a way that customers and prospects will understand and will be meaningful to them. You will, in short, come closer to “getting it”, and your marketing will reflect this understanding. In the “competition for eyeballs”, you stand a much better chance of being noticed – and being noticed saying relevant things that motivate consumers to action.

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  1. [...] customer/prospect research, including focus groups, in-depth interviews, anthropological (observational: in-home, shop-alongs) and quantitative [...]

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