Why do you use focus groups?

As has been noted in several postings on this blog, there is overwhelming evidence that focus groups and brainstorming actually:

  1. Reduce the number of ideas generated, and
  2. Eliminate the “outliers” — the most creative ideas

compared to 1:1 techniques that are a part of a “voice of the customer” effort.

Voice of the customer 1:1 methods include:

  1. one-on-one interviews
  2. ethnographic study, and
  3. site visits by NPD staff.

Why do firms still use group techniques — focus groups and brainstorming — in new service development?



For a review of some of the research evidence, see the VOC article by Griffin and Hauser: http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/1721.1/2425/1/SWP-3449-27000178.pdf

To see the Business Week article, “Shoot the Focus Group” (I think it could better be called “shoot the moderator”):  http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_46/b3959145.htm

This entry was posted in Customer Research Methods, Ideation and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why do you use focus groups?

  1. jimmypr says:

    I have never thought that focus groups were worth the time and money.

    Our consultants are good at selling their expert service. Also some of our senior execs think it is fun to watch the customers talk and it makes them feel that they are part of the idea generation.

    Keep fighting.

  2. gschirr says:

    Some selected representative comments I have received by email from bankers:

    J. R. (Bank)
    We have not used focus groups recently; one on one is our primary method.

    J. C (Community Banker)
    Last year we conducted [multiple] focus group interviews (8-12 people in each) using an outside company to do the interviews. They were with customers and non-customers, retail and business customers.
    I have to say that this year we are going to do more personal interviews both in person and over the phone, and I may do some lunch and learn meetings with customers as well.
    The focus groups yielded a ton of data that was difficult to categorize and in some cases, was difficult to pull any conclusions from…
    The conclusions were really very general in the end, and were what the marketing dept would have assumed independent of the focus groups.

    S. K. (Bank)
    In my experience, groups tend to ignore ideas that are not familiar or have not been shown to be effective by other organizations. Groups to not go forward with bold new ideas because they don’t want to be held accountable when they are not successful.
    We do use focus groups, on occasion, to test specific features of new products to to gain insight into customer needs that lead to product development.

    K. (community bank)
    The last time we used a focus group was 1996. Our experience would tend to support the aforementioned research [indicating that focus groups limit ideas].

  3. gschirr says:

    Some selected non-bank comments:

    Mortgage Bank

    I think the hypothesis is true that any kind of group activity reduces ideation. The primary reason I believe this is so is that any kind of group activity reduces individual creative thinking – there is a natural and almost unavoidable tendency for people to not extend their thoughts as far as when they are ideating alone.

    News organization

    We haven’t done a lot of focus groups recently. We typically combine them with other methods. When we launched a recent new outlet, we did three rounds of focus groups in five weeks, then did 1:1 interviews with the final version, and the resulting product was a hit in the marketplace from day one.

    Focus groups are good to confirm or dispel your thinking, not to cause you to think. It’s folly to take direction from a focus group, but it’s fine to test your envisioned direction on them as another data point.

    Financial Exchange

    Actually, there are a limited number of instances where we have attempted to seek industry feedback in a group setting. Rather, we tend to gravitate towards one-on-one situations. In those limited number of instances where we have attempted to solicit group feedback, the participants tended to be somewhat less than forthcoming. The reason is probably pretty obvious … brokers or financial institutions or what have you … prefer not to give anything away in front of their competition. This is probably especially true in the context of very established markets. When we’re talking about novel markets, there tends to be somewhat more commonality and forthrightness. Still, we prefer those one-on-one situations as a rule.

    Industry association

    We only use focus groups to help us shape topics/areas for, say survey questions or discussions, never for ideas themselves or ground-level brainstorming.

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