Focus Groups

Have you ever been in a focus group — as a respondent? You walk into a room with ten other people and an unknown number of people behind the one-way mirror, microphones dangling from the ceiling and, to this cozy world, reveal your innermost feelings.

Have you no shame?

While there are always a few who let it all hang out, most of us keep our feelings to ourselves. Rather, we want to appear smart, rational and logical, educated, cultured and absolutely true to our values. We present ourselves as we would like to be perceived. And we're sure not going to let loose with our innermost feelings. We'd appear as just a bundle of emotions. Ooops. Won't work for what we have to do here. We need to understand the buyer's emotions because these drive the purchase decision.

There is a second problem with focus groups, not due to the process but a fault of those running them. Groups are not inexpensive and when we're going to get a bunch of customers or potentials customers into a room we have a whole list of questions we'd like them to answer. Unfortunately, this too often goes way beyond the subject for the focus of the group. Do the math: you add three additional issues to the one that drove the idea for the group in the first place:

10 people for 120 minutes for 4 subjects = 3 minutes per person per subject

Now that's focus. Tell me all that you know in three minutes. That's an insult.

So focus groups don't work because,

  • The social interaction tends to stifle the responses we're seeking.
  • The ability to stay focused on the particular issue of identifying the emotional drivers is most usually overcome by the desire to find out more.

While always interesting, they rarely get to the issue of clearly uncovering the emotional drivers of a purchase decision.

One Caveat

There is a great place for focus groups — ideation sessions for new product ideas. But this is an entirely different kind of group. It's used at the very beginning of the development process and can be very productive if used correctly. If your interested in this, let us know.