In our current extremely digital age, where massive amounts of data are collected and sorted through using algorithms; where communication is as comfortable over text or with images as it is in person; and where we rely and depend on technology to order our lives, the concept of focus groups seems quaint. Old-fashioned. Putting people together into a room – for a few hours – and having lengthy conversations just seems so inefficient in a day and age where one can simply deploy their own survey online or do a Google search and get access to some pretty remarkable research databases.
Yet, ironically, it’s actually because of our digital and technologically connected world that focus groups matter more than ever.
See, we’re so used to looking at numbers, compiling spreadsheets, and relying on algorithms to order our lives, that we blindly trust hard data, without bothering to peer behind the physical numbers.
Yet, believe it or not, your consumers are still humans, with real motivations and needs, and simply monitoring online shopping cart abandon rates or comparing click-thru rates only gives you half of the story. Even well-intentioned online intercept surveys or email feedback forms don’t shed light on people’s nuances, motives, or what they felt was missing.
People still like to tell you want they want
Maybe as a by-product of our digital age, people feel less and less heard, less valued, and more like a commodity to companies that are constantly in pursuit of tracking their clicks, page views, and purchasing behavior.
Something amazing happens when you actually seek to find out what your customers want and how they think. They’ll tell you. In the context of a focus group setting, people have a chance to brainstorm, come up with how they think your product could be improved, and tell you their motivation behind purchasing brand X over Z.
What you won’t learn from quantitative data alone
Quantitative data is, quite simply, easier to rely on than going through the process of hiring a firm and having focus groups conducted. A team can knock out some survey questions in an afternoon, release them to their database, and have a survey platform compile attractive charts and graphs. Yet, often, when relying exclusively on this type of quantitative data, teams are only getting a portion of the story, and may in fact be getting fed an unrealistic narrative by simply looking at the numbers.
For example: Let’s say that a company is attempting to test out opinions on a new portable music player. The survey questions are well-written; they give consumers a mix of multiple-choice options, fill-ins, and Likert scale questions. The company takes the data, and based on the findings, alters the final interface and releases the product to market.
Fast forward six months: The product isn’t selling. The product team can’t figure out why – after all – they built it according to the survey sample input. The marketing team steps in and decides to run focus groups and get deeper insights. During the groups, a common theme is that the when people pick up the music player, they can’t actually figure out how to scroll through options and see the interface clearly, thus limiting their full experience of all of the product features. Compared to other devices that consumers have used, they report that the interface is “clunky” and “confusing.” The product team didn’t realize that consumers wouldn’t understand their new design. A numerical survey has its limits, and it only gave them feedback on what to include. They didn’t anticipate, however, that people never even got to those features because they had a hard time getting past the home screen.
Hard lesson learned.
When should you conduct focus groups?
Ideally, focus groups should happen early on in the process. As a company is ideating and coming up with product designs, putting these concepts in front of consumers early – before they company invests heavily in production – can be a true game-changer in terms of product design and functionality. Additionally, as new product features are added, as marketing campaigns are developed, and as changes are rolled out, focus groups are going to be the best source of insight for a company to rely on.