I simply cannot understand the fascination for focus groups. Very rarely does anything good come out of it. If focus groups were all it is portrayed to be why are there so many duds in terms of products, ideas and campaigns? Why do we ignore the collective wisdom that the marketing and agency teams bring to the table? Why do we overlook the wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped from the war zone like sales, customer care etc? Why do we discount commonsense? And can respondents really be trusted?
I am not alone with my rant. There are many in the business with much stronger concerns about focus groups. I liked this example (via) that just hits the spot.
Years ago, British Airways (BA) decided to introduce a new service for its first class passengers on long haul flights. It was basically a mini fridge full of goodies so that if you woke up in the middle of the night feeling a little hungry, you could get something nice for yourself. The question was: What do we put into this little fridge?
BA dutifully did its market research and assembled several focus groups of first and business class passengers. What would you like, they asked? The response was universal. People wanted fruit or perhaps some light salads. All very good. All very healthy.
On the first flight with the new service an air hostess paused as she noticed the fridge being filled. “What are you doing?” she asked. And the person dutifully explained what was happening. The hostess laughed. “They’re lying!” she said. “They don’t want salads. Listen, I’ve being doing the London to LA route for years, and when they wake up in the middle of the night the last thing on their minds is salads.”
“But the focus groups all said …”
She shook her head and walked away. A couple of minutes later she came back with some chocolates and cakes. “Please put these in as well,” she said. “Trust me. I know my customer.”
And they did put some chocolate and cakes in and when they checked at the end of the flight, they were all gone and nobody had touched the apples or salads.