4 Takeaways From My First Focus Group

I once worked for a magazine that used monthly focus groups to choose covers. Typically, what I felt was the worst cover option was chosen. My conclusion: Focus groups were stocked with dolts. 

Years later, I found out those dolts got paid for their time and opinions. Since I’m a fan of money, and I consistently aim to acquire more of it, I became one of those dolts. I’ll get sued if I tell you the product we tested, but I’ll say that it’s been two months and I’m still crowbarring bits of it from my enamel. 

The group consisted of 25 people. None of them were dolts, but all of them had strong opinions about what we tested. All told, I got a free dinner, $250 cash, and an unexpected look into how to communicate with men when introducing a product. 

1. Give guys a realistic “need.”



Food, water, and shelter are the only things people truly need in life. Oh, and a smartphone. Oh, and a car if you live in Los Angeles. Everything else falls under the “wants” category. Guys need a reason to want to need something. 

At first, the necessity of the product we tested was under debate. There are plenty of products like it, so why would anyone spend money on this one? Then a dude in a three-piece suit and scuffed Chuck Taylors (really, guy?) rattled off four scenarios where it’d work for him. The mood changed. Soon the group mind shifted, and we were talking about how valuable the commodity could be.

2. Speak their language.

At work, guys respond to watered-down PC jargon to appease their corporate overlords and to stay out of HR. As consumers in our focus group, the men got lively when the language got lively. In other words, without a censor there was brutal honesty. And that allowed for better conversation and for more guys to join in. Instead of finding offense, the marketers took out notebooks, jotted things down, and asked pertinent follow-ups like, “Did the taste of dog excrement appear immediately for you, or was there a slight delay?” 

3. Not every lead is worth chasing.

One glassy-eyed young man admitted during a break that he aims to attend two focus groups a month, and that he always has one eye on the clock and one foot out the door. During group activities he was distant and quiet, and he only offered his two cents when he was called on specifically. But instead of going all Jack Bauer on him to obtain more info, the marketers essentially left him alone. The point being: You can’t win them all. Sometimes it’s better to cut bait than waste resources chasing someone who isn’t going to run.

4. Function over fashion.

The last thing we were shown was the product’s packaging. It was sleek and oblong, brightly colored with funky abstract shapes and designs. But it was difficult to open. One impatient ogre (read: me) accidentally ripped the lid off. The design was universally panned, with a guy offering the sharpest criticism: “If I’m driving, texting is easier than opening this container.”

Next story loading loading..