Focus, People, Focus

Posted March 12th, 2019 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

Don’t you love focus group data?

A bunch of people paid a pittance to answer questions honestly about your product or service. They come in, talk a bit, get some free soda and then go on their merry way, oblivious to the fact that their answers may hold the fate of an entire company, or perhaps an entire research division in their responses.

Do you think they know how important what they do is? Is the data they provide really that good? How important were they in the New Coke debacle?

As any marketing person will tell you, I love data. Tendencies, numbers, proof that the campaign we chose to execute is effective. Or not. I think data is the reason that I never became an artist: I like the confirmation, the certainty involved when you can actually measure the effectiveness of what you’ve done, or been a part of doing.

We all know Guernica is amazing, I’m just saying that I couldn’t paint it. Of course, I have always been more of a copy guy, but that isn’t the thrust of this post: the importance of understanding the data we get from focus groups.

People in focus groups generally try to do the best they can to answer the questions that they are asked honestly. I credit them for this, for the role they play is invaluable. My interest today is not about the group itself, but abut the moderator.

In any group setting, there is the possibility of peer pressure weighing in on the responses. No one wants to look like an imbecile or play the role of outsider even among strangers with whom the only thing they have in common is the desire to get paid for opinions. This reality brings us, in turn, to the importance of the moderator. Or as I like to refer to the role, the opinion therapist.

The person running the focus group is extremely important to the quality of the data and opinions produced. He or she needs to be able to put strangers at ease and inspire them to share opinions that may go against the grain, or simply against the prevailing wisdom in the room. We’re not talking about Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, but rather the ability to get people to be honest and keep ideas flowing freely.

These people are rare.

And they have a direct impact on the quality of the data. I observed a moderator asking a group of people if they were comfortable with the term “Energy Supplement.” Most of them said yes. Supplement is a big word, and no one likes to admit that they are uncomfortable with big words. So these people are confronted with a choice: either I agree and I don’t look stupid. Or I make the effort to tell the moderator that the term energy supplement sounds like something a body builder would buy. Or some guy trying to make his car run better. Or that it sounds like some kind of pill instead of a beverage. Everyone said that they were comfortable with the term.

Which proves my point: Your opinion therapist is as important as the patient.