Is There Value in Focus Groups?

Bored focus group of same individuals

No matter what your core business is about, the urge to crowdsource opinions even in the more controlled form of a focus group can often lead to you making the same mistake as the rest of the competition. So why, in our never-ending quest to create a business that provides a unique service or product to a specific market do business owners and agencies continue to use focus groups?

History of the Same

Innovation has never been built on group consensus. As a matter of fact, true innovation always comes from someone taking a risk, and daring to do something unexpected which is one of the biggest phobias of human nature. Anything new is scary, because we don’t know if it will hurt or help us. We like what is familiar, however if that’s what we stick with we’d probably not have many of the wonderful devices that seem to dominant our business life to date. I remember the trepidation that I first felt in purchasing an item over the internet, something which I don’t think twice about today.

Add to the mixture a group of individuals being asked their opinion on a new product or even the marketing behind the product, and the need for a familiar comfort zone becomes even greater. Even though we’re individuals we still want to belong to a group, and as such our opinions may change based solely on the company we’re in. The classic “All in the Family” failed miserably in focus groups with most participants feeling that Archie Bunker wasn’t relatable, and needed to be more likable. The show aired for eight seasons, ranked number 1 in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971-1976, and launched three highly successful spin-offs — Maude, The Jeffersons, and Archie Bunker’s Place despite testing poorly. By today’s standards the show would likely have never made it to the air, or worse it would have been another watered-down sitcom that tried to appeal to too broad of a market while actually appealing to no one. Producers took a chance on “All in the Family,” because they never lost sight of the show’s potential despite a negative general opinion.

Marketing isn’t for Your Target Market

The psychology of a brand and purchasing decisions for a demographic aren’t within the scope of your audience’s expertise. Personal opinions often become the central focus of testing. Unfortunately, like and dislike become the grading system for new brands that are in their infancy and old favorites that are showing their age. It’s so much easier to point out everything that you dislike about a logo, ad campaign, or marketing brochure than it is to explain the elements that you like. What’s worse is to try and have a person explain why they dislike something. I’m sure that we’ve all heard the ubiquitous, “I don’t know why I don’t like it, but it just looks bad to me.” The reality is that personal opinion has never been linked to the long-term success of any brand, and the stranger fact is that most successful rebrands are often met with strong opposition at launch which quickly dies down as consumers get used to the change.

Branding must be risky

In order to succeed in today’s overcrowded marketplace differentiation has to be a central focus for your company. While many entrepreneurs and business owners set out with this goal in mind they quickly find themselves as far away from differentiation as possible. You see your competitors develop a marketing campaign that is highly successful and the gut reaction is to do something similar in your own brand identity. While it may seem that you’re differentiated with your messaging and visual identity the reality is that you are not leading. Instead you’ve opted to follow the success of a competitor blending yourself into the vertical market to mitigate your risk. Being different takes confidence, just ask Apple. For years they’ve built a company based off of design and differentiation. They even used the tagline “Think different” for several of those years. Though it wasn’t an easy path, Apple has risen to be one of the most profitable companies in the United States revolutionizing not only the computer industry, but the personal electronic industry as well. The riskiest path to take in business is to not differentiate yourself.

Visual identities are priceless

So often as business owners, we want to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for every piece of marketing that is created. ROI is a great short-term look at how some of your marketing tactics are performing like response rates for direct mail, visits and conversions for your web site or even click rates for your online ads, however visual identities can’t be measured by the same metrics. Your logo and your visual identity will likely never bring you direct revenue, because that’s not their job. Their job is to help with memory retention and emotional connections to your company, product or service — the touchy, feely stuff that ultimately drives brand adoption.

So how do you measure the success of a visual identity system? Every successful visual identity in the market has four key characteristics that they are built around — differentiation, memorability, flexibility and simplicity. All four of these characteristics help create memories that allow your customers and prospects to access the feelings they have associated with your brand. Differentiation demonstrates innovation while creating a distinct visual identity that only you own. Memorability and simplicity work together to create an easily recognizable visual vocabulary that can be recalled quickly. Our memory functions best in small bites, so clear concise messaging, and strong, simple shapes form stronger connections. Flexibility allows you room to play with the brand visual vocabulary to keep the look fresh and invigorating, but it also refers to the ability to adapt your visual style to different media — print, embroidery, neon, web, television, etc.

The true impact of your brand is equal to the passion of your followers not the amount of your followers. As your brand is shaped and shared over social media by your fans and critics it’s important to have your die-hard fans defending your brand. It’s fire that your fanboys bring to your brand that will keep your company at the forefront of your prospects minds.

Perhaps the true value of focus groups might best be determined by a focus group. Use the four benchmarks of successful brands, while always keeping a sharp focus on what you do better than any of your competitors and you’ll continue to find the long-term success in your vertical market. Save the focus groups for your competitors, so they’ll continue to be the same while you take the lead.

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