OPINION8 September 2009

Focus pocus

Simon Kendrick has posted an interesting response on the Essential Research blog to an article on MediaPost a few months back announcing that “the focus group is dead”.

The argument in that article, which cited marketing cock-ups by the likes of Tropicana and Motrin, was that calling on a sample of consumers in the “contrived environment of a focus group” is not a patch on listening to their views through more direct methods.

For MediaPost, simply mentioning the dirty words ‘focus group’ was apparently sufficient to make the point that these clients went about things all wrong.

Kendrick defends the technique, saying that it is only when focus groups are misused that such problems arise. Only bad workers blame their tools, he writes.

But from the client’s point of view, arguing that it would have worked if it had been done properly doesn’t cut much ice. For whatever reason, focus groups didn’t get these brands where they wanted, and that has allowed another dent to be put in the reputation of the technique at a time when it is already challenged by shiny, new, and often cheaper methods.

Focus groups may not be dead, but more of this sort of thing poses a serious health risk for them.

@RESEARCH LIVE

3 Comments

11 years ago

Focus group is and will be 'alive and kicking', provided we don't make it a tool to prove what we believe in rather than what the research participants believe in or perceive. We must also never use focus groups to make our clients happy - especially those who observe the proceedings.

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11 years ago

Hi Robert - sadly, there will always be bad research - irrespective of the methodology. With the intense competition, some will do anything to win the business - whether driving down cost or not objecting to anything to client wants. And in some situations, the client may want an "independent" rubber-stamp to take to his/her budget holder in order to justify their decision. Perhaps we as an industry should do more to publicise effective use of "proper" focus groups, where rigorous sampling and objective framing uncovered genuinely new observations, which demonstrably benefited the client. Other methods may be shinier and cheaper, but it is my contention that a focus group done well will give "better" results than social media monitoring done well. At least for the time being. One of my issues was that whether these examples even used focus groups. They may well have done, but there was no explicit reference; just what looked to me as an implicit assumption. And furthermore, why just blame the notional focus group? There are plenty of pre-testing products out there that Motrin et al may have used; it is unlikely they would base their decision on one tool so surely all methods are equally culpable? Cheers Simon Kendrick, Essential Research

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11 years ago

Hi Simon I agree, and I think it goes beyond bad use of focus groups. I fear that the term 'focus group' has become a kind of shorthand for misguided research – very easy for commentators to knock. That seems to be the case in the MediaPost article - as you say, there's no detail on how focus groups were used by these firms - the simple statement that they used them is sufficient condemnation.

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