Don't Blame Focus Groups for Corporate Management Shortcomings

In a recent guest post for Greenbook, two qualitative researchers explain why they’re fed up with the all-too-common notion that the focus group is dead. Susan Abbott of Abbott Research + Consulting and Chris Shields Kann of CSK Marketing Inc., write at length about how it’s not the focus group’s fault, but the corporate management behind all the bad marketing decisions. They point to a 2009 article in the Social Media Insider that references several examples of “high profile reversals resulting from not listening” to customers, including the Tropicana packaging change, the Motrin ad that offended mommy bloggers and the 2009 Facebook redesign.

“Pity the poor focus group, a multi-function tool being blamed for the mistakes of its users,” they argue. “It’s like blaming the chairs at a dinner party for the quality of the food.

The author of this particular article lambasted marketing research for not doing its job, but it’s not so simple, say Abbott and Kann. “Pity the poor focus group, a multi-function tool being blamed for the mistakes of its users,” they argue. “It’s like blaming the chairs at a dinner party for the quality of the food. When you look closely at most of the articles so critical of the focus group, the writer is usually trying to make quite a different point — they are usually trying to expose management cowardice or poor leadership that relies too much on research and those who won’t take a position of their own.”

They go on to argue that, “research does not set strategic direction — managers do that. Your outside researcher, who spent many hours poring over the fieldwork, can give you an informed, independent and often very valuable viewpoint. But they should not make your management decisions.”

Well said.

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