Do focus groups represent reality?
Henry Ford’s focus group
A guy I met in a bar recently told me Henry Ford employed market research consultants to determine what horse and carriage owners wanted back in the early 1900s.
Apparently they wanted a faster horse.
The Wright Brothers focus group
This guy also claimed the Wright Brothers had held a focus group to determine if people wanted a carriage that flew through the air … apparently they didn’t.
George Stephenson’s focus group
He also claimed that George Stephenson had convened a focus group to investigate the perceived safety of railway trains moving at speeds faster than horses could gallop. They apparently concluded that it wouldn’t be possible to breathe at these high speeds, as the air would be sucked from our lungs, and they vetoed the whole idea.
The truth about focus groups
Focus groups do have a value but you have to be careful with your expectations. Sometimes marketing focus groups get it completely wrong. The opinion of inexpereinced and/or uninformed people, in an artificial situation, doesn’t really provide any indication of what prospective customers will buy in the real world.
If you sell yellow and orange widgets and think there may be a market for widgets in various colours, the best way to ascertain whether a market really exists is to produce some coloured widgets, promote them well and try to sell them on your website or in your shop. See which colours, if any, fly off the shelves. This is the real world and you are no longer dealing with conjecture.
Asking people about things they really don’t understand, or have a current need for, is likely to provide you with false information and you’ll never invent the car, high speed rail of supersonic aircraft.
Marketing is the process of satisfying customer needs. Ask them what they want and they are not sure. Show them some options and they vote with their wallets.