It's the first and most fundamental Law Of Business: The customer
is always right -- even when he's illogical, inarticulate, unimaginative
and dead wrong. And for that reason over a billion dollars are spent annually
in Focus Groups to determine what's really going on in the consumer's
mind and how to use that insight to create corporate growth.
Unfortunately Focus Groups are often the right idea but wrong execution.
Group dynamics being what they are, individuals are easily influenced
by peer pressure and politically correct opinions. Pressed for ideas,
most opt to follow the leader. And the 8-10 minutes of cumulative "air
time" allocated to individual respondents in a typical group session
is hardly the kind of "quality time" required to get to the bottom
of complex -- and often personal -- need structures that drive purchase
behavior. Better to limit respondents to no more than two at a time and
conduct in-depth sessions custom designed to maximize the output of qualitative
But managers still aren't out of the woods. Because the individual
responsible for coaxing insight out of even unbiased consumers typically
is a researcher who lacks the business experience to know if the nugget
that has just been dredged up is iron pyrite or high assay gold. It's
a case of a blind-to-business-realities moderator leading a vision-impaired
end-user. Too often an obscure spark of information that could have led
to a major opportunity flickers momentarily and is allowed to sputter
out. But replace the research oriented moderator with a marketing trained
interrogator and add someone representing the client's perspective
-- marketing, R&D or research staff -- and the joint-venture represents
a highly productive partnership comprised of individuals skilled at both
discovering information and using it.
The objective is an uncomplicated one -- generate usable and unbiased
consumer information. Particularly information that individuals responsible
for creating plans, strategies and end-point action can use in their functional
This exploratory research tool pairs consumer twosomes with a moderator/marketer
and a corporate manager to create an environment in which ideas can arise,
be nurtured and be channeled into productive opportunities. Every encouragement
is given for the unexpected to emerge. When it does, the two individuals
conducting the exploration are uniquely qualified to recognize -- and
pursue -- an emerging business opportunity.
The process used to conduct Discovery sessions is designed to reflect
project objectives. It ranges from Voice-of-Consumer methodology used
to benchmark competitive technology to Pictured Aspirations Technique
(PAT) projection techniques used to discretely probe ego-driven needs.
Each session is controlled by a pre-determined Goals and Objectives statement
and a discussion guide used to outline the flow of the interrogation and
coordinate efforts of the co-moderators.
Respondents are screened, recruited and then focused on key areas of interest
to managers by pre-meeting assignments. Consumers may be asked to keep
a product usage related diary. Conduct a wardrobe inventory of casual
wear apparel. Videotape a software installation. Test-drive a Toyota then
a Suburu and fill in a short questionnaire comparing the two. The experience
focuses respondents on issues they will be required to discuss later.
To permit the co-moderators to develop an in-depth investigation of each
emerging opportunity -- and to avoid peer pressure, politically correct
and me-too opinions -- the consumer participants are limited to two pre-screened
respondents for each session. A 60 minute interview covers users'
internally directed motivators such as self-perceptions, needs and envisioned
usage opportunities and still allows time for a no-nonsense exploration
of the perceived limitations of product technology inherent in leading
brands. Ultimately the information is assimilated into patterns modeling
key consumer perceptions and mapping unexploited opportunities.
Allergan used Discovery Sessions to put the individuals who developed
contact lens care products in touch with both the optometrists who prescribed
lens care products and the end users who followed -- or more accurately
partially followed -- the care-giver's brand and usage directions.
The input contradicted "known information" and significantly altered
corporate strategies for managing medical sales/detailing efforts, retail/on-shelf
and packaging strategies as well as new product development efforts.
Discovery sessions put the brand manager for Levi's Womenswear in
touch with users to learn how they felt about tight fitting jeans -- and
discovered polarized attitudes among eighteen and twenty-eight year olds.
Put the marketing director of Collagen in touch with forty-four year old
women to discover filling crows feet and "smile lines" had more
to do with self esteem than appearance to others. Put the director of
marketing for Heublein in touch with female wine drinkers to learn "dry"
and "oak-aged" were male descriptors and far less appealing than
"soft" and "fruity."
Potential applications are as limitless as the need for better information
in an information-driven economy. The definition spans hi tech to low
touch products and innovator to laggard consumers. Candidates include
Oracle's managers of web TV hoping to cross the chasm between early
adopters and the early majority...and Foster Farms' efforts to develop
new products designed to coerce pre-teens to "drink your milk."
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