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.