Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Coming into Focus???

"Focus groups should be abolished," says Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and Tipping Point. Gladwell's statement, although controversial, rings true from certain marketplace experience. Everyone knows that consumers make purchase decisions emotionally and then justify their purchases logically. The problem with traditional focus groups is that participants think about their responses and what their answers should be. Therefore, the snap judgment, the hunch, and the emotion of the first impression are lost in all of the cogitating that goes into a focus group response.

The Aeron Chair by Herman Miller has become a cultural and commercial sales phenomenon. Gladwell pointed out in his breakthrough book Blink that it continues to be one of the best-selling office chairs in history. Had executives at Herman Miller followed advice to scrap the design based on extensive focus group testing, they might not be enjoying such record sales. Despite only moderate scores on comfort and extremely low scores on its aesthetics, Herman Miller went ahead with the introduction of the Aeron Chair. As a result, the company broke all sales records and still continues to reap huge rewards over a decade later.

Matching the promise of your brand with the priorities of your market is a huge advantage if your goal is to be the leader in your business category. Now the critical question is: "What are the customers’ priorities?” I believe that typical focus groups are ineffective at gauging what is really important (emotionally) to customers when choosing a product or service. The bottom line questions are "What's in it for me? How is this going to make me smarter/ more powerful/ more influential/ more popular/ sexier/ etc.?

Understanding your customers' and prospects' priorities before writing and designing communications to them is fundamental to marketing and sales success. Do you have a method for learning what your customers really think about and care about?

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