My friend Bob Killian of Killian Branding recently asked “Are focus groups obsolete?” Possibly, but it depends on where you’re focusing.
The long-standing habit of inviting demographically-selected strangers into a room to be observed interacting with your product is likely a thing of the past. Having watched many of these, there are some serious shortcomings:
Focus group members don’t know anything about the product,
Precious time is often wasted explaining fundamental details. A 2015 event at a leading telecommunications company found some members didn’t know the company still made their product, to the extent that one of them thought it was a carrier.
Focus groups members tend to say what they think you want to hear
They want to please. After all, you’re probably paying them. A leading media company constantly faced group members who reported they wanted “more serious news.” But, when given their choice of stories, they generally chose the most gossipy, salacious ones.
Focus group members are akin to trial juries
Killian points to how groups can be dominated by one hyper-opinionated member. True enough…most busy people don’t want to spend time arguing. Isn’t it easier to just say “I agree with John?” There goes the veracity of your research.
All this isn’t to agree that focus groups have met an untimely demise. They just need to be re-directed. For example:
Involve your own stakeholders
Spend more time asking across departments within your own organization. What do they like or dislike about the website?
Why did they buy?
Take the time to survey existing customers. How did the website influence their decision?
Stick to the front lines
Talk to those closest to potential customers — the sales force or the customer service providers. What do they hear about how the website is viewed?
Keep the focus on your stakeholders helps ensure honest, actionable data. And it’s cheaper — they can bring their own coffee and snacks.