Following Seth’s “But the focus group loved it”,
I tried to map what focus groups do and don’t, based on my experience. My overall conclusion is that the most common mistake with focus groups is to try and use them as a predictive tool.
Focus groups can help you…
- Map various attitudes towards existing products, brands and concepts – things that have been out in the market for a while.
- Limited understanding of usage patterns (not for interactive products – usability & experience labs do that much better).
- Support the interpretation of quantitative research results.
- Locate problems and gaps in existing experience.
- Create additional hypotheses to your own to check with further research (that’s the only bit that is slightly predictive).
- Support mapping of worldviews and cultural themes connected to the issue as part of the general research
- Never use them to judge or justify innovation, most participants are immediately conservative in group context , especially if you’re aiming to address/create a new want.
- Be very cautious when dealing with arenas where there is peer pressure for conformity on emotions and worldviews (and which arenas aren’t?).
- Don’t use for arenas where the psycho-social situation is too complex. Don’t expect them to give you deep or specific understanding of emotions and social situations.
- Don’t use them for highly individualistic arenas – ones where personal taste, attitude, worldview etc vary greatly.
- Never ever ever use them to judge creative concepts & work .
Overall, my experience taught me that you get better results from ethnographic research and from personal interviews for most of the goals focus groups are usually chosen for.
Over the years, many many times clients have asked me to check if a concept is “right” using focus groups. My answer is: “Yes, as long as we’re talking on the old, existing, concept.”
[I was happy to discover this post has been qouted in Fortune’s “Business Innovation Insider”]
Update: No. Calling focus groups “Consumer Panels” does not change anything.
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