Kissy Kissy

  Just For Fun 
  Originally uploaded by Pumpkin Chief.

The MarketingProfs Book Club seems to be continuing to generate some great thinking and conversation, with Chief Book Worm, CK, hosting a tangent discussion on focus groups over on her own blog. There are some excellent points of view, so do make the effort to check out the main post as well as the commentary.
As you know there are no "right" answers in marketing … really it comes down to the using the tools, techniques and insights available to you within your budget. But my aversion to focus groups is not to do with whether they should be used or not, but more to do with the MANNER in which they are used.
A while ago I wrote this post which looked at using focus groups to drive innovation — it is entitled "Customers Don’t Innovate". I also linked to this post by Steve Cone which is very short, and leads with "You either know your business or you don’t". (And you know I love a provocative line.) And while I love the simplicity and frankness of this line … my lack of interest in focus groups does go a little deeper …
You see, I have a feeling, or perhaps an instinct, that focus groups serve us in ways that are a little unhealthy. We can structure the terms of reference, the questions and the approaches to yield the results that we want. We can even populate our focus groups with samples that are more or less "representative" than others. This can be consciously done or accidentally or unconsciously done.
And the members of the focus group are unlikely to yield the type of insight that they themselves would demand of a new product (see also Seth Godin for a more eloquent rant). As I said in my previous post:

… innovation is about future stories. Innovation doesn’t start with "once upon a time", it starts with "imagine if …".

I know that some people get a lot out of them, but focus groups just make me feel like I am kissing myself in the mirror — people love to watch, but in the end, it just leaves me cold.

7 thoughts on “Kissy Kissy

  1. Reading this in the morning, drinking my coffee and preparing myself for the drive to work (pictures to follow of course). What a great way to get started!
    I am SO with you on the focus group thing. Totally. I have yet to sit in, work with or mediate a focus group that didn’t seem skewed or “wrong” to me. Deep down in our subconscious, we end up picking the people who will give us the answers we want- more often than not.
    For instance, I place polls on my blog from time to time. I don’t do it too often because I know the audience there is too much like me for the most part. It’s like asking myself the question, essentially. It’s great for reaffirming an idea, but not so great for crafting something I hadn’t already considered. Focus groups tend to be too much like that, in my bike-nerd opinion.
    Great post Gav!

  2. Howdy Gav from the Windy City!
    I couldn’t agree more with your antipathy towards the old focus group. My major concern is that a focus group can only formulate their opinion based on what has been, and has a lot of trouble digesting a new concept. By their very nature they’re (supposed to be) ordinary people. Not visionaries.
    One of my bugbears when I was working for a record company and trying to get new songs added to radio was that a lot of the stations would compile their song lists from surveys. No kidding- they’d ring a thousand people and ask ’em what they wanted to hear.
    Your only chance to get a new artist a shot was to build a following with the regional stations, and find a Programming Director with guts and ‘ears’. Someone willing to make a call on the next big thing.
    As Henry Ford would say “if I asked the general public what they wanted they would have said they wanted a faster horse”.

  3. Gavin…
    It’s funny, I was just thinking about this premise a few minutes back, just before I read your post.
    This idea of “you either know it or you don’t” is really powerful, especially for someone like me (working at a small agency for small clients that don’t have the cash to do “real” research). Recently we’ve been doing some work for clients that requires some rather big thinking, thinking that would normally be supported by big research. Instead of going down that road, we called some sales folks, talked to a few real-life customers, and got a sense for how they presented themselves online by reading their blogs (thank God for blogs!!). That got us part of the way. The rest was good, educated guesses and thoughtful assumptions, backed-up by us ‘knowing’ our clients’ businesses. This isn’t to say that more research wouldn’t have helped, but we feel like the ideas we developed were ‘bigger’ (forgive the vagueness and the marketingspeak) than what we would have found if we went out and asked thousands of similar questions to thousands of similar people.
    Not sure if that furthers the discussion at all, but I guess it’s mostly just an example of what you’re talking about.
    If you’ve got the horsepower to come up with the right idea, I say go for it, no matter the percentiles or the indexes (“Damn the indexes, full speed ahead?”). Hopefully you’re working with a company that has the stones and the ability to make it happen.
    Thanks for the great post…

  4. The last time I had anything to do with a focus group was years ago (yeah!), but after reading this post, I had a question:
    Since MySpace, YouTube, blogs, and all 2.0 phenomena, have focus group participants become a little too media-savvy? Or too jaded because they’re constantly surrounded by media messages in their leisure time?

  5. Curses! I am supposed to be the smart one here! KG asks a clever question and Tim wonders how I will respond … the pressure …
    Actually, I think this will be the subject of a new post. It’s about time I talked about that great mass of audience for a change.

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