If you need research, don’t conduct focus groups
Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
15 April 2014
We don’t do focus groups
Every single brand project we do at Stealing Share includes market research. But that research never includes focus groups. We don’t use them and neither should you. They are not research in that they are never projectable and there are much better ways to gain qualitative research learnings.
“The results are not in anyway projectable to the target market and yet we too often forget this fact when evaluating them.”
Here is the basic problem with focus groups. The results are not in anyway projectable to the target market and yet we too often forget this fact when evaluating them. Worse still, they often represent a group mentality and few if any purchase decisions are made in groups. When you need to understand the language and feelings about your brand, one-on-one interviews are a better means to hear them. In a one-on-one interview, there are no group dynamics to diffuse and almost no risk of misinterpreting the findings as projectable.
Many years ago, I remember work we did for a large company that sold a consumable product in the US market. Until we worked on its brand, the company marketed its product on safety and convenience — two attributes that applied to the entire category. Why? Well, focus groups had told them that these were the two reasons for purchase. The head of marketing in this company knew there was something more important than those two generic benefits and he hired us to identify them (find out more here about great research).
I remember well one of the first one-on-one interviews we conducted. The interviewee started the statement with the following nine words: ”I know it may sound stupid but I believe…” It was the first of many insights that we later tested in projectable quantitative research. What makes those words telling is that they are NEVER shared in focus groups because no one wants to admit anything about themselves to a group that willingly shows them in anything but a favorable light.
So think about this. You will have no idea as to the direction your brand must take to steal market share, if your research does not include a quantitative component that is projectable and has a methodology that protects it from bias (in other words it is not an online study or one that is administered via email) and is limited to focus groups.
If the focus group hates the ideas, remember it is not a projectable sample. Even worse, if they love the idea…remember it is not a projectable sample. In other words, either outcome can be and is often false. So don’t use those focus group outcomes. If your research company recommends them, find another partner and do it right.
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