Fletch Sneak Peak:  The importance of focus groups in modern product development

We’re working with a New York based company to develop and launch a new alcohol beverage in 2016.  We’ve been working with various concepts and flavors and decided to do a focus group to see where we were.  People don’t think focus groups are good to do, but this is why they are critical….

Market research is cornerstone of modern business, and companies that try to launch a product without any insight from customers or even competitors will probably not be too successful.  Research – even of a name – is everything.

The man and the company that we have to thank for this shift in business and marketing is Neil McElroy, a marketing executive with Proctor & Gamble, who in the 1920s started the first focus groups. He quickly realized that marketing and therefore sales would be higher if his company not only learned about what customers needed, but what they wanted. P&G sent researchers to talk with average housewives about their favorite products and what they wanted from them.  And with that focus groups arrived and have never left! (Harvard Business School)

Focus Groups Defined

The Marketing Research Association defines a focus group as “the meeting of a small group of individuals who are guided through a discussion by a trained moderator (or consultant). The goal of the focus group is to get beyond superficial answers and uncover insights on consumer attitudes and behaviors.”

With almost every major company in the U.S. utilizing focus groups for qualitative research, this is a research cornerstone that will not disappear overnight. The MRA estimates that almost 70% of market research dollars at U.S. Fortune 500 companies are spent on focus groups.

Why Focus Group Research is Relevant

Whether it’s an in person focus group or a digital one, the purpose is still the same. It’s not to receive specific feedback on a product or strategy. Think we’re wrong?  Does anyone remember the infamous SNL ranch salad dressing skit? Point proven!

Focus groups allow you to learn about your customers – their wants and their needs. Focus groups provide you with qualitative data about your customers that you can’t get in any other way. Not only can focus groups help you make your products more appealing, they can help improve your overall strategy. (HubSpot.com)

Advantages to Focus Groups

While focus groups are the best way to gather qualitative data, many companies are still hesitant to use them for the following reasons:

  • Cost
  • Study design
  • Applicability of the information collected

If your company (or client) is still to use a focus group, perhaps you can persuade them to hold digital focus groups. Do note that you may not get the results you’re looking for as online focus groups can lose some context. For example, moderators know to pay attention to body language, tone of voice and even non-verbal cues in order to ask different questions and get the right answers.

No matter what type of focus group you chose, you need to keep these five things in mind to elicit the results you need:

  • Know your research goals
  • Never, ever underestimate the critical importance of a good moderator. He’s the ref of your game!
  • Screen participants prior to using them.
  • Create a well-defined discussion guide for the group.
  • This is NOT a one-time event.

By understanding your company, client and user needs you will be able to continually provide products that resonate with your consumers.

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