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Focus Groups are for Lipstick

The Power of the Herd

You're launching a new product, so of course you test your messages with customers.  After all, you want to make sure your customers' mouths water (and their wallets open) when they hear your story. More than that,  you want to get to know your target market; learn to think like them, speak like them, understand how they react to your story.

So you decide to run a focus group. That's what everyone does, right? Wrong.

In my humble experience the high technology market does not lend itself to focus groups.

Unless you want a stilted result.  In that case you can go ahead and put 10 -  20 people in a room and ask them all the same questions at the same time - and watch the group dynamics replace the customer truth.

But if you want an honest, accurate customer moment - you have to do it 1:1.  Mano-a-mano.

Focus groups work great for markets that are trendy - where buyer behavior follows a herd mentality.  Which is mostly in the consumer space.

Take lipstick for example.  Back in my grad school days, I worked as a gopher for a hot ad exec in the Chicago area.  We ran focus groups all the time - for everything from Soul Train programming to haircare products to McDonald's ads to  - yes, lipstick and cosmetics. As part of my gopher role I had the chance to sit 'behind the mirror' and listen to the dynamics on both sides of that piece of glass.

What did I learn?

  • Groups have Alphas and Others.  Even strangers who met each other five minutes ago will follow group dynamics quickly - and Alphas and Others will appear.
  • Alphas will lead, Others will follow.
  • Alphas will suppress Others' ideas or opinions that differ from theirs.
  • Others will stifle or change their own stated ideas to be 'accepted' by their Alphas.

OK - so these were focus groups with consumers. So what does that have to do with technology?


Group dynamics are group dynamics.  And those are exactly the dynamics that can give you great insight for popular trends like lipstick colors, car body designs and more. Trendy is great when you can leverage it to compel or attract the masses from specific demographic targets.  High technology products focused on consumers can certainly use group dynamics to create compelling market dynamics.  Phones, games, laptops and PDAs can fall into this category at a consumer level.

But IT and business executives don't make decisions based on the trendiest thing.  Sure, you may think they do.  They get excited about the latest whizfloppy, right?  But they don't spend budget dollars based on trends. They really don't. Ask yourself: When is the last time a CXO called you and placed a $400K order because  'everyone else is buying it'?  Wouldn't that make it easy:)

The best way to find your customer truth is to talk to your customers about their specific situation.  In an environment where they can share their truth - uninterrupted and with ease.

One-on-one, up close and personal.

More Stories By Rebel Brown

Rebel Brown guides organizations and individuals to harness the power of their minds to step into their ultimate potential. A masterful agent of change, for over 25 years Rebel Brown has inspired, coached and empowered individuals and businesses to unstoppable performance and results. As a recognized market strategist and turnaround expert, Rebel guided over 200 global organizations to step beyond their status quo perspectives to create profitable market advantage. She also worked with US and European venture firms to successfully fund and launch their portfolios. She also ran a consulting practice in Paris for three years, working with European clients. Fascinated by the power of our human minds to limit ourselves and our business results, she began her study of neural science. Her core question was simple. What could we do if we had no limits? Today, she brings the power of neuroscience to business (NeuroBusiness),fueling limitless thinking that drives powerful bottom line growth for her executive and corporate clients. Rebel’s work has been featured in media including First Business TV, Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Business Insider and Business Week. She is a Vistage International speaker and workshop leader as well as NSA speaker. She’s also been named one of the Top 100 Women in Computing. Rebel is also the founder and director of the Unstoppable U Foundation, a non-profit program committed to guiding kids to know that they are born to be Unstoppable!

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