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Stop focus groups – connect with real people
The internet ripped any barriers between companies and users down. While others pretend these still exist, you can take advantage of this...
Polling audiences and focus grouping ideas/new products behind closed doors, in controlled settings, is fast becoming a thing of the past. What is possible (and cheap) right now is testing ideas, content, products and marketing creative in the wild. Then, let your community decide what you bring to market.
Entities like traditional ad agencies and large brands spend tremendous sums focus grouping ideas and concepts in a vacuum to share data with stakeholders and get buy-in to move forward in the real world. It’s the way things have been done for ages. Now you can do better.
There are plenty of ways for getting more accurate, predictive data than that which can be acquired in controlled settings. This used to be cost-prohibitive and testing in a laboratory was easier. Now the two have flipped.
In a world where you are able to easily connect with end users, you can directly communicate with them and learn just what they want instead of working in artificial settings to deliver what you think they might want. The advantages to this are numerous:
Positions you as a favored option
Direct to consumer is a huge trend, and connecting directly with fans for new product ideas shows that your company deeply embraces this philosophy. It also shows you actually care about their input and positions you as the lesser evil, making you a better choice than your competitors.
PR value, links, social media attention
If you’ve built a niche-specific audience carefully over time, the data provided may prove interesting enough to be re-blogged, get links, shares in the social web and perhaps even find its way into mainstream media. Good ideas and experiments attract attention.
Cheaper than laboratory settings
It used to be cost-prohibitive, perhaps impossible to connect with end users at scale for most companies. Now it’s simple, and paying expensive research firms to test ideas in a vacuum is both more expensive and less authentic. The results are frequently wrong too, as you end up with selection bias. The results are lab results, and so unless you’re running a trial on a cancer drug you might prefer gathering data in a more natural environment.
Strong community-building strategy
If you connect users not just to your products and ideas in a two way street, but in a multi-directional format you will forge real connections, which inevitably inspires more growth. People want to be involved with companies that create and more importantly then listen to their communities.
Feedback provides a stream of novel creative ideas
When you’ve build a platform to test ideas and products with users and provide the ability to share feedback instantly you’ll open the faucet of creative ideas. This is particularly useful for the media and organic content you ship.
You might not even need to run surveys
If your team is sufficiently fluent in online research and analyst work, you can easily just collect your own data and analysis of what users want in the world. Again, so many companies are still ignoring this. For example, one could, without much effort, see precisely the features or products a competitor has that their userbase has frustration with. Then you can go build what people actually want. The best part here is you’ll already know how to target them.
Certainly don’t ignore bringing good internal ideas to market, but it is starting to make little sense to spend arduous hours and large sums to test ideas in lab settings when you can effectively do it yourself in the wild. This isn’t an entirely new idea, and some savvy companies have been embracing this philosophy for years.
What few have embraced is a total yielding of product, marketing and brand to the web and social community. Inevitably new companies will spring up designed for this, and they will slowly leech market share from the bigger players, forcing them to also listen to their communities. Large consumer brands of today weren’t designed to take advantage of this, it’s an Achilles heel for a smaller startup. Might not make sense for entirely new product categories where they market doesn’t know what they want yet, but of course that type of business was never running focus groups in the first place.
Designing a company specifically to cater to a connected, interested audiences and letting them dictate the future is an exciting prospect. If you were dedicated to pleasing them and continually delivered what they wanted, you would in time rally large cohorts of passionate users behind you. Being a part of shaping the future of products people are truly interested in will continue to prove an irresistible option for consumers, they’ll feel on your team and in your tribe. Perhaps the best moat of all.
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