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Focus groups are, in my opinion, an unfocused approach to marketing, sales and product development. The groups are an exercise in pseudoscience, not an example of the scientific method, because no laws emerge from these sessions. If focus groups were the result of a series of controlled experiments — if businesses were able to apply the results to the public at large — every company would be a success. No advertisement would fail. No store would close. No business would go bankrupt.
Many consumers do not know what they want — until a business abandons caution for a courageous attempt to revolutionize how we shop, study or socialize. The most valuable brands, such as Apple, do not owe their wealth to a wealth of opinion from a focus group. Their biggest successes were either the result of decisions by individual executives such as Steve Jobs (at Apple) or Jeff Bezos (at Amazon), or the product of downtime devoted by engineers (at Google) to creating a new service such as Google News.
As Steve Jobs famously said: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The smartphone belongs to the genius of executives and industrial designers. Their workshops are a testament to this.
The most innovative products and services are the work of men and women who risk their livelihoods to better our lives. The problem is that they may, and often do, lose everything because they risk all they have on an idea. Not every product is a success, in spite of its beauty or bounty of remarkable features. Not every good idea translates into a good product, whose supply creates its own demand, whose marketing increases sales, whose existence expands profits.
Despite these risks, I do not believe that focus groups are the solution. A focus group is an expensive way to get the answer to a straightforward question: What do you like or dislike about a particular company? Focus groups are expensive because they require hiring a marketing firm, a moderator and paid participants, among other things. Expect to spend at least $10,000 on even a small focus group. I speak to or correspond with consumers every day. I do not need a moderator or a consultant to tell me what I should already know.
If I want to achieve my version of the future, I have to search within, not seek guidance from without. I have to accept that there is no intelligence to review when all I have is what I feel: instinct. A risky proposition, to be sure, but one whose promise I cannot deny. I keep that promise by asking myself a question that is as relevant to my business as it is to any business owner: What kind of a product or service do I want that does not exist?
Business owners have to understand that business is not a science. It is a balancing act between maximizing returns and minimizing risk. Absolute devotion to the latter diminishes the former, rendering safety indistinguishable from stagnation. Balance comes from, again, asking and answering a simple question: How can I please my customers by exceeding their expectations? Reward them with exclusive discounts or include them in the debut of services that establish new standards of excellence.
A focus group is not a soothsayer. It does not speak with a singular voice of conviction but is instead a cacophony of voices. Focus on your business, not the business of focus groups. Focus on what you want to accomplish.
December 28, 2018 at 07:22AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs