Focus Groups, Your Days are Numbered

New CPG product introductions occur all the time, and I've been surprised to learn how many consumer brands conduct little, if any, consumer testing before bringing a product to retail shelves.

Unless your brand dominates a product category and has the luxury of “owning” the retail or supermarket shelf where consumer research is less critical, wouldn’t you want to know what consumers think about your product before making the investment in manufacturing, packaging, distribution and marketing?

I know I would.

The past 12 months have taught me while consumer brands want and value consumer opinions, many perceive new product testing and getting consumer feedback as being too expensive, time consuming and sometimes just too hard. The good news is it doesn’t have to be.

Traditional product research methods like focus groups can indeed be expensive and very time consuming, and even worse, often end up yielding minimal actionable data, which is why I believe their days are numbered.

I’ve had numerous conversations with brand marketers and ad agencies who once deemed focus groups as their default consumer research approach, but now agree focus groups have lost their mojo, and in fact have stopped doing them. They simply no longer map to how today’s consumers – particularly Millennials – interact with and respond to new products and concepts.

Unless conducted perfectly, focus groups are usually contrived, highly subject to groupthink, and often held in uninviting and sterile conference rooms where participants (who know they’re being watched) are being scrutinized behind a two-way mirror. Gee, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to sign up for that and speak freely?

The truth is, consumers are more apt to be honest and engaged in the feedback process when they can interact and connect with products (and each other) in a comfortable, casual and more social setting.  They crave to be heard with little restraint.

When it comes to consumer insights, it’s time for brands to look ahead at new approaches, and stop running back to the comfort of outdated ones whose time has passed.