What about focus groups? In theory, focus groups sound like a chief marketing officer’s dream to jump-start their startup marketing plan.

Focus groups alone will not cut it. Put a representative group of likely prospects in a comfortable meeting room, give them coffee and donuts, and ask him a series of scientifically developed questions about your product and its sales appeal, then sit back, analyze results, and all of your startup’s marketing issues and key copy points come into view.

This is the way it’s supposed to happen, but the reality of basing your startup’s entire digital marketing strategies on focus group results is often far different.

For every accurate research group that produced a conclusion that was later confirmed by real sales results, there are many focus groups that lull their startup’s management team into a false sense of good feeling about their products or through their company’s product positioning in marketing programs in a wrong direction.

Focus groups rely too much on academically based research principles in dynamics, and not enough on-street proven marketing and sales wisdom.

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Focus groups results have been too far at the whims of research group participants, and place little reliance upon marketplace leadership and vision. The major product innovations in our daily lives have succeeded because of world-changing innovation and responsive marketing, not focus group results.

If your company has developed a revolutionary new technology or innovation, you will need to show your target market that they need it, and how they can use it, because your potential customers do not understand what your product is, what it does, and what it can really do for them.

The focus group participants find your company’s products to be unlikely any other product they have ever seen before, then how can they have an opinion on it? And, even if they are presented with information on your product and some “yes or no” research questions in a research group situation, how valuable is any snap judgment they render within a few minutes of their exposure to your product?

The company that relies on focus groups is like a politician who shapes his or her opinion based on poll numbers.

Both place themselves in the position of responding to opinions and events, based on the status quo, instead of getting out ahead of the voters (or prospects) and displaying bold leadership to shape events (or to create new markets).

marketing focus group

Focus Group Definition

Market research: Small number of people (usually between 4 and 15, but typically 8) brought together with a moderator to focus on a specific product or topic. Focus groups aim at a discussion instead of on individual responses to formal questions and produce qualitative data (preferences and beliefs) that may or may not represent the general population.

Other problems with focus groups stem from bad group dynamics often occurring within them, such as the following.

Pleasing the interviewer in a focus group

Over time, participants sense the result the research group mediator is aiming for, and, the urge to please is a human trait, they need to tell the focus group moderator what they believe he or she wants to hear. This often leads to rubber-stamping of your product sales copy benefits and proposed marketing programs as, over time, focus group respondents agree to your studies questions to please the moderator.

Groupthink with focus groups

Another research group shortcoming reveals itself when most participants begin to censor and moderate their opinions in response to questions asked the moderator, to keep their opinion in line with what they feel is the group’s consensus opinion. Where do I avoid giving answers that may be viewed as being too iconoclastic or out of the mainstream?

Groupthink is the worst result of any focus group because it is a dangerous tendency to dilute and compromise your market research, email marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, and other online marketing activities.

And too provocative headline that otherwise could be effective when viewed by a single individual in an ad or an e-mail campaign will often be criticized by the same people if discussed openly in a group setting.

market research focus groups

Follow the leader in a focus group

Inaccurate or misleading survey results occur when less assertive participants in the group. They follow the leader, molding their own opinions around the group’s most vocal, assertive, opinionated, participant.

This place is the entire research group at the whim of its most outspoken participant’s views and places your entire marketing program and direction at similar risk. If you allow these results to influence the form and content of your marketing program and deliverables.

Don’t ask–sell, and then watch the reaction

Because it requires you to engage each participant on a one-on-one basis as an individual, the informal market testing process covered in this section neutralizes the group dynamics in personality facts that plagued marketing focus groups.

You’ll get better information from informal, selling based testing then you get from research groups if you keep your respondents focused on your sales presentation, marketing program, and deliverables, and listen to, and reflect on their responses.

Let the focus group members tell you if they respond to your sales and ad copy. Have them write their answers on the 3 x 5 card and collect them for later review. Then let the discuss occur so you can explore the reasoning behind their answers. But do not rely on that alone you have to test and test more in live situations.


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Wrap up

Focus groups identify the feelings, perceptions, and thoughts of consumers about a particular product, service, or solution. It does that well, in part, because focus groups use qualitative data collection methods. However, the startup CMO must be leery a focus group research results alone.

You might test keywords from a research group to help create content and blog posts that will boost your search results in the major search engines and increase your conversion rate.

Focus group marketing research can be more valuable than individual interviews, as the group interaction can provide a unique dynamism to the discussion, and allow for greater clarification of the respondents’ views.

However, it may be difficult to solicit responses in a focus group setting if the research is about a personal, or potentially embarrassing topic, for instance.

We’re listening.

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