Selling insurance when people don’t want it

Selling insurance has one of the single most difficult hurdles to overcome. How to convince audiences that they should buy something they believe they don’t need.

Selling insurance isn’t like selling something people want. Consumers want iPhones and a nice-looking car. They will gladly pony up for them.

Selling insuranceHowever, they don’t want to think about what insurance is protecting them from: Death, illness, fire, liability, etc.

Selling insurance includes another dilemma. People believe that insurance companies are simply out to take their money and will automatically fight any claims. Whether that’s belief is true or not, it is believed. We have conducted research in this industry and that belief is the single biggest hurdle for insurance sales reps.

What are the other selling insurance hurdles?

Without giving away findings that are preparatory to our clients, our research has borne out a few themes:

  • People, including white-collar professionals, believe insurance companies are unfeeling entities, which means claims of caring rarely resonate.
  • Fear-based messaging (“What happens when you die?”) is ignored because it’s seen as the start of a scam.
  • Policies are confusing, feeding into the belief of insurance companies being deceitful.

Here’s the catch. Agents, those chosen to sell insurance products, often feel the same way. They also believe that messages about caring are not believable. They are also sick of telling the same story. And they find working with insurance companies to be cumbersome.

This should not be a surprise to anyone in the industry. What is surprising is that too few in the industry do anything about it. Yet overcoming those hurdles is exactly what would increase market share.

Let’s address each hurdle.

Insurance companies are unfeeling entities:

This is the most difficult hurdle because few believe any company cares more about its customers than its bottom line. This belief is especially acute with insurance companies because insurance is a low involvement category until they have to use it. Then it is high involvement and highly personal.

An effective brand message is the best step. Any message must be aligned with that belief (insurance companies are unfeeling) and positioned against the competition.

Selling insuranceAsk yourself these questions: What is it that audiences seek in their lives? What are they truly seeking when considering insurance? What are they rebelling against if they are forced by an employer to seek a particular structure of insurance, such as a health savings account?

More importantly, the message should be about the customer, not you. You lose the audience’s attention the moment you begin talking about you (either in person or in an TV advertisement).

Selling insurance becomes even harder when the rep knows that all products are the same and the only effective tool is the personal relationship with the individual customer. This is one of the main reasons an insurance salesman is such a cliché. Customers need insurance, not someone pretending to be their newest best friend. Be expert and understanding.

Fear-based messaging is ignored:

So stop doing it. Advertising for life insurance is especially guilty of this, often asking the question, “What will your family do when you’re gone?” This might have worked decades ago when life insurance was a relatively new idea. At its best, protecting your family is a category benefit.

Today, audiences have become immune to that message and consider their own investments as savings against such an outcome.

Think about this. Thousands of messages come into our view every day. Even the logo on a pen is a message. Humans, though, have a filter. They only hear messages that are about them.

What insurance companies and agents must do is understand the emotional reason why someone would want to protect something with insurance. Not a rational reason. An emotional one. Too much messaging today is superficial and paper thin. (A better example for life insurance: “It’s what a good father would do.” A definition of who they are when they buy insurance.)

Policies are too confusing:

This is an industry-wide problem. Policies have variations on variations, papers upon papers, language that is too confusing. Even agents have trouble deciphering everything.

To potential customers, it looks like an attempt to intentionally confuse them so the fine print can’t be understood.

So much of the world seems complex, so we thirst for simplicity.

Simple is best. Make everything you do, including how you explain policies, as simple as possible. What is the final result? The details are usually ignored.

The most powerful way to clear the hurdles

The most effective way to address all of these issues, however, is through brand. So many  insurance companies get brand wrong. GEICO spends millions on a message – “15 minutes could save you 15%” – that isn’t believed. The result if market share stagnation. As an even worse example, Genworth Financial once said: “We’re big, safe and friendly.” Ugh.

Selling insuranceBrand is about the customer. Who they are when they use your brand. We are winners when we wear a Nike shoe because we “just do it.” Apple positioned itself against everyone else, saying that its customers “Think Different.”

Developing a brand like that is hard work. It takes in-depth research, leadership willing to slay sacred cows and an understanding that emotion works better than the rational.

Insurance companies and agents should take note. Because audiences right now believe you are out to get them. And get them good.

Predict the success of marketing. A Marketing Metrics

Predict the success of marketing. Predicting that influence on brand strategy

The Human Model | Motivators | Challenges | Desire | Familiarity | Leadership | Affirmation | Scope | Comfort | Change | Community | Summary

By Tom Dougherty

Introduction into the art of how to predict the success of marketing

The purpose for all messaging and communications is to have influence on the audience and to persuade it to act. However, getting your message to the proper audience in today’s economic climate is no longer an issue of choosing among the possibilities. Instead, it has become solely an issue of affordability. There is a need to predict the success of marketing messages. In retrospect, many experts have looked at the success of past advertising campaigns but hindsight is not valuable.

predict the success of marketing
A model to predict behavior

Companies do what they “need” to do, instead of what they “want” to do. How do you measure effectiveness and ensure that you win? These questions can be predicted if not measured. We needed a comprehensive model to predict the success of marketing so we created this marketing metrics. For that “need” to be effective, it must be the most meaningful in the market – and it must resonate considering the current situation, such as an economic climate that has changed the mindsets of consumers.

The unwillingness to address those needs and go with the same tired approach – messaging that’s nearly identical to what was delivered years ago and follows the tired reach-frequency format so many misguided marketers follow – produces a predictable, losing formula. After all, in changing times, there will still be winners and there will still be losers.  The difference between the two is one understands the nature of human beings and the other doesn’t.

If you seek to understand something, it always makes sense to model it. The science of physics has been modeling natural laws for centuries. The marketing metrics model presented here is a formula that takes into account the emotional intensities of the primary human motivators within any changing situation, economic or otherwise, to formulate messages that will resonate most strongly with audiences, and predict the success of marketing messages. With this marketing metrics model, you will learn to recognize the elements and, if form follows function, you will be able to understand how to influence and change the model. (Read how precepts control behavior)

The Comprehensive Model of Persuasive Communications for marketing and branding. How to predict the success of marketing A New Human Model for Persuasive Communications

to predict the success of marketing is the goal of any strategist and marketing matrix
How well will our marketing messages resonate

Human behavior can be modeled, as you will see, and this marketing metrics model in particular models the behavioral elements of persuasion. Let’s start by asking ourselves, what do we notice? How do we decide what is important and what we remember? When we examine the answers to those questions, we begin to re-think the waste inherent in current marketing. Looking at the elements of human behavior is quite different from modeling a communication process like reach and frequency. For this new model to be usable, it needs to act as a predictor of human behavior and, by definition, should be able to explain past communication successes and failures.

What Human Beings Notice Most

Human beings are egocentric. We cannot get out of our own way and see almost everything through the filter of self. As a result of this filter, what the receiver considers most when confronted with messages is not so much “what’s in it for me” (which is the traditional model of benefits and features) but rather “am I in it”? Human beings notice ideas and products that, in some way, reflect themselves. They remember products and ideas that help them accomplish their major goal of simply becoming themselves. That is why, if a doctor tells you to lose weight because of the onset of diabetes, we notice and pay attention to messages about weight loss — a message we might have ignored the day before. (Another example: Think of how many For Sale signs you saw when you were buying a house. Then think about how, amazingly, they seemed to disappear once you bought the house.)

The New Marketing Metrics Model to Predict the Success of Marketing and Marketing Messages

Imagine this: You are driving down the highway and you see a billboard that featured your photograph. Would you notice it, regardless of message? Absolutely. There is a communications process that empowers every message to become exactly that effective. It requires an anthropologist’s skill at understanding and modeling human behaviors and motivations. Once that has been uncovered, you would need to include that learning in the message itself. It would be nearly as effective – and in a similar way – as starting every message with the customer’s name and image. Through experience and empirical and scientific research, the human motivators have been effectively modeled here and the basic elements are cross-cultural, so personal impression can be noticed and acted upon. The basic queries in this marketing metrics remain constant regardless of culture or national origin. They are global. Understanding the eight elementary human motivators propels your message to the forefront and ensures it is remembered.

The Unquenchable Thirst for Meaning

Human beings, regardless of culture, seek meaning in all of their actions. (Consider this: We even talk to our dogs, expecting them to give reasons for the things they do.) This represents an opportunity for those communicators who understand this tremendous thirst for meaning. This means that the words we choose to create meaning to our messages and our brand is extraordinarily important. It means that everyone who is exposed to your offering or the communication of that offering sees this meaning and, in fact, will use the words you provide to them. This is a double-edged sword. If you get the meaning wrong, those with whom you are communicating will insert meaning that is not important or motivating to them and, therefore, fail to inspire them to your ideas, services, products or brands.

The Prime Motivators in the Marketing Metrics

The eight primary human motivators form the basics of self-identification and account for a human’s own sense of self — given that the fundamental needs for sustenance, shelter and health are sated. By addressing each of these in your message, you ensure that everyone who is exposed to your message (reach) will notice the message.

1. Affirmation 2. Leadership 3. Familiarity 4. Comfort 5. Change 6. Community 7. Desire 8. Scope

These eight prime motivators are the filters through which all messages are received, accepted, ignored or rejected. The more they reflect the “self-settings” of the recipient, the more likely they are to be acted upon.

Good Times vs. Tough Times and Times of Change

In creating this model, we looked at each of the eight prime motivators needed to predict the success of marketing messages and measured the differences between cultural norms in both good and tough economic times because most companies and brands in the U.S. have become handicapped by this situation. The marketing metrics model will demonstrate the differences in these motivators, predict success and explain failure. We are able to recognize the intensities of each motivator in relation to the situation as well as the rate with which they change during changing situations. In this case, that situation is economic: Going from “good times” to the “tough times” of today. The motivators below are listed in order of intensity during good times and tough times. Also, the way in which each motivator is defined changes slightly, depending on overall circumstances. It is those nuances that often make the difference between a winning message in the context of the times and a losing one. Each motivator has been given an intensity measurement, a ranking on a 10-point scale based on the particular situation. In addition to differing definitions, the rate of change for the intensity of a human motivator from one situation to another is referred to as Acceleration, and those rates are measured on a 10-point scale.

Tough Times
Good Times
1. Comfort 1. Desire
2. Affirmation 2. Familiarity
3. Familiarity 3. Leadership
4. Community 4. Affirmation
5. Change 5. Scope
6. Desire 6. Comfort
7. Scope 7. Change
8. Leadership 8. Community

Desire(Good Times intensity 6.0 — Tough Times intensity 6.5 — Acceleration 8.0)

In good times, the most important human motivator is Desire. It derives its power from its relationship with the other motivators. Simply taking into account the desires of the target audience that you seek to influence is not nearly enough to promise success. It is simply a starting point. A traditional usage and attitudinal study (U&A Study) can discover what people need or want and the results are then used to create messaging that fulfills those desires. However, there is a more powerful means to understand and use this dynamic — one that will make it useful to you as a predictor of success and as a tool to understand past successes or failures in the marketing metrics.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of desires is defined as “What I Want.” In tough times, it is defined as “What I Need.” Comparing the relative importance of each definition in good or tough times demonstrates why the benefit you offered in relative good times will not resonate as important in tough times. As a general rule, all intensities are increased in tough times and each of the prime motivators is realized as more important. But understanding the nuances is critical in the marketing metrics because it’s what makes the difference between surviving in tough times. In this case, that means your message must be about “need,” not “want.”     Think of it this way: In tough times, you “need” products to simply do their job. In good times, you “want” something more. In tough times, we simply need coffee, so you accept the one at the grocery store. In good times, you want Starbucks. And thus, you have a predictor of what Starbucks is currently going through unless they adapt their communications to the particular nuance.

Familiarity (Good Times intensity 5.0 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration of 6.40)

All communicators understand how important familiarity is to any idea, product, or service because if someone is unfamiliar with that product or service they are less likely to adopt it as a new behavior. Familiarity is also linked to top-of-mind awareness in the marketing metrics but even that is misunderstood. It is not so much about the familiarity of the brand or product, but what is it about that brand or product that makes it feels familiar and at ease.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of familiarity is defined as “What is Easy.” In tough times, it is defined as “What is Safest.” That is, in good times, consumers are looking to what makes things easy for them, even if its outcome may have risks. In tough times, risk is less accepted. Safe feels familiar to audiences now because it offers a refuge that may herald back to nostalgia.

Seeking the Familiar - predict the success of marketing

For example, when you are thirsty in good times, you might choose what is “easy.” That is, we might grab what is most available. In tough times, we seek “safest,” meaning we might inconvenience ourselves and go somewhere else for something that is healthier or cheaper.

Leadership (Good Times intensity 4.0 — Tough Times intensity 5.0 — Acceleration of 7.0)

When we think about leadership as a human motivator in the marketing metrics we are not talking about taking the lead on something as we might in geopolitical terms. We are talking about leadership in terms of responsibility — meaning, “Who takes the responsibility for this action?” It is an internal question asked by everyone before they take any action.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, from the point of view of the target audience, the fulfillment of Leadership is defined as “My Responsibility” (the consumer) and in tough times it is defined as “Your Responsibility” (the brand). In good times, audiences are more than happy to assume the responsibility because the risks are fewer. Once the element of risk has become more threatening, however, audiences want the responsibility to fall to the experts (or communicator of the message).

Leadership in good and tough times - predict the success of marketing

As strange at it may sound, according to the marketing metrics, we listen to experts more in tough times.  Even if they were the ones who let us down in good times. That’s because the responsibility has shifted. Choice, as we will examine more closely in Scope, becomes less of a motivator.

Affirmation (Good Times intensity 3.0 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration of 6.99)

One of the ways human beings seek meaning is by looking for affirmation in their choices. Consumers wish to make sure that all of their actions are somehow affirmed as “being correct.” As a primary human motivator – regardless of culture, product and category – everyone that your brand or marketing message contacts are seeking this sense of affirmation and certainty.

predict the success of marketing

Without this value in the marketing metrics, target audiences gravitate towards inaction: A refusal to make a choice or fall back into a habit of what “I have always done.” This is a surefire way to assure continued market dominance by the category leader. It means that if we do not provide our audiences with a sense of affirmation, little or no change will take place in the marketplace and the market leader will continue to benefit from this inaction.

Seeking Correctness - predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of Affirmation is defined as making the Best Choice and in tough times it is defined as making the Right Choice. For example, in good times, we will look for the best choice in automobiles, something that is top of the line or sporty fits us best. In tough times, we look for those things that are right, such as a hybrid or something more economical. The world, in a way, has determined that it’s right. Talking about the choices consumers make in terms of affirming they have made the right choice makes your messages more meaningful in a difficult economic climate.

Scope (Good Times intensity 3.0 — Tough Times intensity 5.0 — Acceleration 7.75)

Scope is one the most complex of the human motivators in the marketing metrics. When we consider Scope, we see it in terms of how large audiences want their considered set to be. This is related to the other motivators, such as leadership or the transfer of the responsibility of the decision to others. What we seek to understand in looking at scope is what gives the customer or prospect permission to include the scope of either your product or category into their consideration.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of Scope is defined as having many choices and in tough times it is defined as having precision and more focus. In good times, audiences seek a wide scope, with lots of choices. In tough times, we are looking for “right,” so more focus is needed. Our considered set is smaller and we often give expert advice more weight. This, for example, is why Borders (which is all about choice) found it difficult to survive in a difficult economic climate.

Defining Scope - predict the success of marketing

Comfort (Good Times intensity 2.0 — Tough Times intensity 9.0 — Acceleration 9.18)

Human beings seek comfort no matter the situation, but the intensity surrounding it is much stronger depending on that situation.

predict the success of marketing

According to the marketing metrics, in good times, Comfort is simply accepted as the norm. In tough times, it is actively sought. In good times, most of us feel that we already have comfort so a comfort message is relatively meaningless. In tough times, however, comfort is no longer a given. Therefore, we seek it and a comfort promise – instead of achieving, which has risks – resonates. Note the differences in intensities with this motivator within the two situations. It is only a 2.0 on a 10-point scale in good times. In tough times, it’s a 9.0 with one of the highest rates of acceleration among all the motivators.

Comfort in the ability to predict the success of marketing

Change (Good Times intensity 1.5 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration of 6.99)

The longing for human beings to be in control is a prime motivator. It is within the dynamic of change in the marketing metrics that the need for control becomes most evident. When we think about change as a key persuasive human motivator, we actually think about it as a barrier than as an attraction. The changing situation determines its intensity.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the resistance to Change is simply uncomfortable and in tough times it is outright feared. Therefore, in tough times, change messages should be softened, otherwise they will feel to audiences like a loss of control.

Perception of change -predict the success of marketing

Community (Good Times intensity 1.0 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration 9.31)

Community in the marketing metrics, refers to the acceptance of the community that affirms our existence and is related to Affirmation. It represents the wish of all human beings to be part of an affirmed group. Very few people are capable of acting as completely independent individuals. Therefore, for the vast majority of people we wish to influence, we must understand the importance of community and the acceptance that community offers.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of Community is simply about the individual and in tough times it is satisfied through the safety of numbers. In good times, you can risk going it alone – being a leader, a rebel, etc. – because there is less at stake. In tough times, there is too much at risk in going it alone, so you seek safety in a community or being a part of a group.

Seeking Community - predict the success of marketing

Maketing Metrics Summary

Companies and their brands have reached the point in which their communications must change in order to survive in such a changing market. The marketing metrics of the Comprehensive Model for Persuasive Human Communications allows them to alter their messaging so that it becomes more meaningful in context. If nobody adapts to the current context, the default choice will always be the market leader. But the situation actually presents an opportunity for those chasing the market leader (as well as for the market leaders themselves) that reaches target audiences so deeply it causes action. How the primary human motivators are addressed will become the difference between who survives and who doesn’t.

Definitions COMPREHENSIVE MODEL FOR PERSUASIVE HUMAN COMMUNICATIONS: A mathematical model that measures the impact changing conditions have on emotional intensities of primary human motivators. The model can be used to predict and formulate messages for brands that will resonate most strongly with target audiences.

INTENSITIES: The relative strength of human motivators expressed as a ranking on a 10-point scale based on the particular attributes examined by the model. ACCELERATION: The rate of change for the intensity of a human motivator from one state to another, measured on a 10-point scale.

VALUE OF MESSAGE CHANGE: A mathematical representation using intensity and acceleration to predict the value in terms of its overall impact on each motivator.


Download a Power Point Presentation of motivational-Cues and how to predict the success of marketing messages here.pptx
Download a PowerPoint presentation of motivational-Cues and how to predict the success of marketing messages on the link below

Download a Power Point Presentation of motivational-Cues and how to predict the success of marketing messages here.pptx

How to predict the success of marketing messages as a PDF may be downloaded here.

Preference. It’s amazingly flawed.

Why your preference is misguided

Preference in blindfolded tests
Blindfolds often reveal truths

A Bud Lite drinker once told me that Miller or Coors “would not cross these lips unless they were cold, blue and dead.” He had unshakable preference. I asked him why he hated the other lagers so much and he said “they taste like raccoon urine.”

I asked a large assembly of bankers once if they felt like they were much affected by brand in their preferences. About two-third raised their hands to let me know that brand had no influence on their purchase decisions. Budweiser preferenceI then asked a few of the brand deniers what brand of mayonnaise they had in the refrigerator. To a person, they all responded, “Well, Hellman’s of course.” By a show of hands, almost three-quarters of the group who said they were not influenced by brands admitted that they too had Hellman’s mayonnaise in their fridge. So much for brand having no influence on decisions.

For those of you who are thinking that Hellman’s just tastes better, I have a few facts to share with you that might just surprise you.

Remember the Bud Lite drinker I mentioned earlier. In blind taste tests with hundreds of subjects, beyond the normal distribution of randomness, no one, NO ONE could tell the difference between Bud Lite and its light beer competitors. But it gets worse.

Preference is not a reliable barometer of goodness.Preferences

If you are over the age of 71, in blind taste tests (blindfolded), you can’t tell the difference in taste between Coca-cola and…  7-Up. (Read my article on what happened to 7 Up here) That’s right. They taste the same to you. This is not because human taste buds die at age 71, the age is simply a dividing line between those that grew up on soft drinks and those that did not.

Preference in sodaAs most of you reading this are under the age of 71, I challenge you to do this. Buy either Coke or Pepsi (I don’t care which one but they must not be a diet version) and a non-diet can or bottle of 7-Up.  Have your significant other blindfold you and pour some of each into identical glasses. Then take the blind taste test. Will you be able to tell the difference? Probably. But, you will be shocked at how similar they taste. If it weren’t for a hint of lemon/lime scent from the 7-Up, you would find them identical. The reason is that the predominant flavor exciter is sugar.

I share all this with you because none of us do blind taste tests to choose the things we prefer. Have you ever made two batches of potato salad, one with Hellman’s mayo and another with the store brand? Have you ever compared the side-by-side results of two batches of laundry cleaned with your preferred laundry soap and that of a competitor? I think you get my point. If things that seem so different as Coke and 7-up can be confused, imaging how much of our lives are directed from perceived differences that have nothing to do with rational reasons.

Preference is confusing
Brand prejudice is a reasonable thing

Purchase decisions, ALL PURCHASE decisions are emotional decisions. We perceive the differences that we anticipate and we reinforce our past decisions with over stated differences and inflated preference memories.

This is not a damnation of human behavior. Brand loyalty is a needed and necessary means of simplifying our lives. We place trust in our preferences because it allows us to live in the crowded and loud world we find ourselves in today. Having to make a continual series of rational choices would be exhausting to us. Prejudice, in terms of making sense of our consumer world, is not only a good thing but it is a necessary thing.

So I leave you with one more example. Can you imagine your misfortune to be a child of a brand strategist like myself? When my kids were young, I blindfolded the lot of them and gave them a choice of Nestle’s Quick in whole milk and the same whole milk with confectioner’s sugar. Sure enough, my hapless guinea pigs could not tell the difference.

(Read an article on motivations and brand preference here)

CMOs realize they must steal market share

Well, this isn’t much of a surprise. According to survey of chief marketing officers, only 5% said they were confident in their agency’s performance.

The survey, conducted by the CMO Council and Ebiquity, was focused on how satisfied CMOs were about receiving the right kind of data from their agencies. More than 80% said they were looking for usable data that helped marketing positively affect the bottom line.


Stealing market share is the only goal of marketing.
Stealing market share is the only goal of marketing.

We at Stealing Share have longed preached that advertising agencies are creative, but not strategic and rarely data-driven in any important way. Oh sure, they may conduct usage and attitude studies, but they are not useful in developing strategies that, ahem, steal market share.

You see, the dirty little secret of advertising agencies is that they want to build long-term relationships with clients, so they end up with data and strategies that mean the most to the client. Not to the target audience they are trying to persuade.

That’s the reason why most advertising has become a waste of time and money. It’s the reason why you see so much TV advertising, for example, that is basically a 30-second skit with the company’s logo appearing at the end. Those ads may win awards and go viral on YouTube, but they do very little to improve the bottom line.

Interestingly, the survey showed that CMOs are having to be more accountable to the company’s bottom line, which means that CEOs are sensing that they are foolishly spending money on flashy campaigns that don’t really steal market share.

Some advice to CMOs.

Now, you can read all about how Stealing Share makes this happen on our site. But I’d like to give CMOs some advice.

Look from the outside-in and not inside-out. Conventional wisdom is to identify something important about the brand and give life to that importance. That’s inside-out thinking and results in messaging that is identical to your competition.

But brand is never about you. Instead, it’s about the beliefs and needs of the people you must influence. Not in the things you make or your company itself.

That means you must ask more of the research you conduct. Your research must go beyond usage and attitudes, and more into switching triggers and precepts, the values that actually move audiences.

The strange part of that approach is that many companies and CMOs don’t want to hear that because they may find out that what they consider important about their brand is actually not important at all to target audiences. You have to slay the sacred cows and look at things objectively.

It’s no surprise to me that CMOs are getting more pressure because the state of advertising has been overtaken by those looking to win awards, affirm what CMOs already believe and entertain an audience.

The simple truth is those goals are not important. Stealing market share is the only goal.

Bad Focus Groups. Never do them.

Bad focus groups are the norm. Our research arm, Resultant Research, won’t let us conduct focus groups. When you tell the world about the virtues of frankness, the self-imposed prohibition seems entirely right to me. I think, when you consider what Resultant tells us, you will agree.

bad focus groups

Our global research experts at Resultant stress to us that focus groups are NEVER projectable to the population you are studying. I know all of us with experience in research know this. The problem is, according to Resultant, that we all seem to forget that fact when evaluating the focus group’s results. As a result, bad focus groups dominate the field.

“If you have a problem resisting the lure of chocolate, don’t eat that first piece”, says JoAnne Cross, President of Resultant. She adds, “In all of my years of experience, I have not met anyone who does not try to make projections based upon a focus group. There are better ways to gather that information.”

Bad Focus Groups Outnumber Good Focus Groups

Resultant has always told us that another problem with focus groups is the clouded vision you get is based upon group mentalities. There is just no way around this. Moderators claim to be able to navigate this deep problem but knowing human behavior as we do we know that no one can.

bad focus groups
Don’t insert a square peg in a round hole

Just this morning, NPR did a spot on peer pressure in high schools. The findings are quite interesting when thinking about focus groups because it highlights the power of peer pressure.

The study showed that high school students were much less likely to take a pre-SAT course when the enrollment was done in standard high school classes. When the same opportunity was given in honors classes, the same student segments were signing on to the class by over 10%.

Better students were less likely to sign up for the class in a standard class and poorer students were much more likely to sign up in honors classes. The reason? Peer pressure. So just to fit in, both groups of students changed important behaviors based upon the context of the offering.

In my many years of research experience, I have seen this phenomenon first hand. No moderator can get someone to reveal a contrarian insight that the attendee holds closely if the focus group holds a different and more vocal opinion.

I remember conducting one-on-one interviews for Blue Rhino a few years back. An interviewee confided in us that he refilled his tank rather than exchanging it. What was interesting was his reasoning. “I know it may seem stupid,” he said, “but I feel like I own the tank.”

His self-effacing comment that he knew it sounded stupid (which it did not) told me in no uncertain terms that he would never have shared that in a group. It turned out to be the number one barrier to adoption of the Blue Rhino model when tested in projectable. quantitative studies that followed.

bad focus groups
What does the target believe?

Remember the movie 12 Angry Men?  Henry Fonda’s character holds out a minority opinion in the face of overwhelming pressure by the other jurors. In the end, they all agree with Fonda and the defendant is acquitted. It is great drama because it hardly ever happens.

The importance of qualitative research cannot be overestimated. We always conduct one-on-one interviews so that peer pressure does not enter into the findings.

Remember the adage that you always get what you pay for? Well bad focus groups are cheap and the findings are questionable at best.