Focus Groups: Marketing’s Secret Weapon

Leni Chauvin So how’s it going? Is all the time, effort, and m.on.e.y you’ve put into marketing your business panning out? Are you getting all the clients you want? And are they the right clients? If not, it may be time to convene a focus group to make sure you are marketing the right part of your business to the right people and that your marketing message is clear to prospective customers and clients. Focus groups have long been used in advertising and marketing to determine the public’s likes and dislikes around the client’s products and services. You’ve probably seen focus groups depicted on TV or in movies. A random group of people is shown a product, a TV pilot, new packaging, etc., and are asked to offer critiques. What are the strengths and what are the weaknesses? What works and what does not? Where are they confused? What would they rather see? Would they buy it? If not, why not? If yes, what do they expect to receive for their m.o.n.e.y? Would they prefer it in a different color? The results of focus groups help the powers that be understand the public’s perception of their offering and help them uncover what refinements need to be made before they can begin their marketing campaign in earnest. If you are an entrepreneur, small business owner, or service professional, there’s no reason at all why you can’t take a cue from Madison Avenue and hold your own focus group to help you market your products and services more effectively.

I have done it myself and I encourage my clients to do it, too. The results can help you gain enormous clarity on what message you really want to get across in your marketing materials. Often one exits a focus group meeting with outcomes that are totally different (and far better) than anything that had been envisioned going in. The how of holding a focus group is very simple. The most important step is to decide beforehand what you want the group to concentrate on. Is it a new company name? A slogan or tagline? Identifying a niche market? A compelling title for a seminar? The name of a new product? Once you’re clear on the purpose of your focus group, determine the best mix of people to invite. Narrow it down to five to eight people who know you both professionally and personally and whom you think really understand your business. You’ll discover once you are into your focus group meeting whether or not they really do!
:-)In fact, that can be a very important first question to ask your group: “what is your understanding of what I do?” This can be a real eye-opener. Your home can make a comfortable backdrop for such a meeting.

Be sure to set the tone in advance, though, by telling your group the purpose of the get together when you invite them.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how willing people will be to help you out. Have some nibblies available for the group, but remember this is not a social event; the focus is business-your business. Ask someone in advance to facilitate the meeting and have a flip chart, markers, and masking tape set up before people arrive. This will reinforce that you are all there to tackle a serious task. (Don’t worry if you don’t have access to a flip chart; you can purchase table top versions or Post-It pages the same size as flip chart paper at Office Depot, Staples, etc.) Please do not attempt to facilitate the meeting yourself as you really need to be in the observer’s seat and you’ll want someone who is completely objective to run the session. Because it is easy to drift off topic when focus groups convene in someone’s home, speak with your designated facilitator beforehand to make sure s/he understands s/he must guide the discussion and bring everyone back on topic if they wander off. Have the facilitator introduce the topic and what outcomes you are hoping for. Brainstorm like crazy, with the facilitator writing down every idea that comes up, no matter how crazy they may seem at the time. Speak up when necessary, clarify, question, observe, and probe. But most of all listen and think.

By the end of a few hours, you will have many answers about the what and the how of your marketing efforts. Some of your marketing ideas will be reinforced; some will be discarded, and some will require a bit of fine-tuning before you can move ahead. Most assuredly, though, you will have new ideas for marketing your product or service that will be so much better than anything you had ever imagined. Bottom Line: If you want to make sure you’re marketing the right thing to the right people, you can…with a little help from your friends.

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