8 reasons, why focus groups are useless
What exactly do those think about a new product that they should buy a little later? This knowledge seems incredibly valuable to many companies. Many companies rely on focus groups to work it out. No wonder: they are quick to implement and inexpensive. Read in this blog post why you can't use focus groups to collect what the consumer really thinks about your innovation.
Focus groups can be set up quickly
No matter whether it is a packerl soup, a smartphone app or even a commercial. Focus groups are used for almost every new product or service. A moderator leads a discussion of 5 to 12 people. The composition of the group depends strongly on the task at hand. They can be members of one and the same target group to which the innovation is aimed. Or there are people in the group who probably have quite conflicting opinions and views.
Using a rough framework of questions, the moderator then tries to find out what the group thinks of the novelty. In the room where the discussion takes place, there are often numerous video cameras and microphones. Typically, the room is also separated from a second room by a one-way mirror. The client can also take a seat in it, which is invisible to the participants. They can then get a live impression of the discussion for themselves.
Low effort makes focus groups so popular
The method, which comes from empirical social research, enjoys great popularity in market research. This is not surprising: the group discussion can be conducted without much preparatory work. In addition, focus groups are unbeatably cheap. Market researchers offer them for low four-digit euro amounts. For comparison: A relatively small market research project, which includes the creation of a questionnaire and the selection of respondents, costs 10,000 euros or more. And: The client has full control over focus groups. After all, he can follow it himself behind the mirror wall.
8 reasons why the results of focus groups say little
However, focus groups cannot provide insights into whether a new development becomes a flop or a cash cow. And for several reasons:
1) Scepticism about the new
All humans are creatures of habit. We are sceptical about change and innovation. Within a two-hour focus group session there is too little time for participants to get an idea of somewhat more complex products. The advantages and disadvantages it offers every discussant cannot be estimated.
2) Group dynamics
There are extro- and introverted people. One group tries to convince others of its own opinion. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to keep their own view behind the scenes. To tickle the honest opinion out of both types of people within a rather short time is an almost unsolvable task for a moderator. The group dynamics destroy this attempt: In practice, a so-called alpha will try to convince the group of his opinion. And an Omega represents exactly the opposite.
3) Skeptics influence the results
It is a well-known fact that different groups of buyers reach for the product throughout its entire life cycle. At the beginning, the visionaries among the buyers, the early adopters, decide to buy. Then comes the masses, the routine users. They prefer everything that has already proven itself. The group of sceptics, the Laggards, comes to the end. Early adopters and routine users can contribute something useful in focus groups. Because they are basically interested in something new. Even if of varying intensity. Laggards or skeptics, on the other hand, categorically reject the new. They tend to denigrate innovation. Especially extroverted Laggards can overturn the opinion of a whole discussion round into negative. In other words: Laggards would certainly have rejected the iPhone because they would not even have been convinced of the advantages of mobile telephony at the time of its market presentation.
4) Discutants do not tell the truth
People interviewed do not always express their true views. The result of the US presidential election recently proved this quite clearly. Of course, some people are less happy to express their political views than their opinion on a new product. But even in focus groups, the participants are not one hundred percent honest. There, too, they ensure that socially desirable decisions are made. In reality, things often look quite different. Want an example? "Of course, I only buy organic products." The choice of the conventionally bred soup chicken, because it costs only one third of the organic variety, is often concealed from the focus group audience.
5) Decisions are emotional
Even if we all don't want to admit it. We make the majority of our purchasing decisions emotionally. Within focus groups, the moderator can, of course, address such emotions about the discussion object. But only in an artificial setting. And that reflects only half the truth. In other words, it makes a difference whether a new, colourfully packaged candy is offered in the appropriate department of a supermarket, or whether it is within reach at the checkout for toddlers sitting in the car. Here the ranking alone can decide about flop or success. Focus groups cannot cover such aspects.
6) Participants later do not represent buyer group
Market research companies select participants for focus groups according to very specific, often socio-demographic characteristics. However, it is not possible to find a group that represents a high percentage of future buyers. Which busy high earners will have a two-hour discussion for a few euros and a snack. For other groups of the population, this kind of allowance is quite attractive and can even be a kind of supplementary income. Others find participation in focus groups interesting because they have contact with other people and their opinions are heard.
7) Survey situation is artificial
As mentioned above, focus groups take place in specially built rooms. In a setting with video cameras, microphones and a mirror wall, however, many of us are not inclined to look deep into their consumer soul. The feeling of being permanently under observation is actually unpleasant for all of us.
8) Moderator influences the result
Focus group moderators have key roles. Based on a relatively rough discussion concept, they must bring the honest intentions of the discussants to light. If the moderator is particularly likeable to a participant, his answers and opinions will be different than if exactly the opposite is the case. Market research already knows the phenomenon of interviewer bias in mere surveys. In the case of oral and non-standardised interviews, this is particularly important.
Conclusion: 8 reasons why focus groups are useless
Launching innovations on the market is a great thing. After all, all new developments hold the chance to become rich and famous. But before that happens, the opinion of the potential buyers must of course be obtained. However, many companies are not prepared to make a large organizational and financial effort for this must. Many people try to hack off this to-do by carrying out focus groups. The money is better invested in attention-grabbing advertising - according to popular opinion. However, the best advertising cannot make good out of bad products. And: Even if customers honestly express their views and opinions, this does not have to be the last word in wisdom. Or to put it in Enzo Ferrari's words: "The customer is not always right". And often he doesn't even know what he wants. There are other methods for developing innovations that are actually successful on the market.
Born in Graz, Austria. After positions as project manager & head of innovation of the project management at LEAD Innovation, Daniel Zapfl has been responsible for the success of the innovation projects of our innovation partners since January 2018.