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Let’s Have a Focus Group!

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Good business decisions start by asking questions. Will there be much interest in a new product or service? Will a proposed marketing campaign strike a chord with customers? What do people truly think of your brand? A reasonably simple, and relatively inexpensive way to answer such strategic questions may be through a focus group.

Unlike surveys, focus groups allow for nuance in the feedback you receive. (How many times have you filled out a questionnaire and the answer you really want to give is “it depends.”) The comparatively free-wheeling format of a focus group will also let you judge the intensity of feeling that’s coming from your participants. Additionally, focus groups may provide insights and creative ideas that you’ve never considered.

Another advantage of focus groups is that they don’t have a lot of requirements. Professional assistance is probably advisable but honestly, if you have the confidence and inclination, there wouldn’t be much harm in trying a do-it-yourself approach. Here are the necessities:

Limit the discussion to a single topic. They are called “focus” groups for a reason. The idea is to take a defined topic and explore the relevant thoughts and feelings of your target audience. Know what questions you want to have answered before you start.

Screen for the right people. Just as you wouldn’t ask bald men about hair-coloring products, not everyone will be right for your focus group. You should screen to get about 10 – 15 unbiased people who are representative of the target market in terms of demographics, knowledge and potential interest.

Choose an adept moderator. Obviously, this person needs to be at ease talking to small group of strangers. However, he or she also needs to be mentally agile, objective, congenial, willing to referee between stronger and less aggressive personalities, and able to keep the discussion on point and moving along.

Find an appropriate setting. A conference room at your place of business might be acceptable with accommodations that provide clean restroom facilities, refreshments/snacks and comfortable seating. However, to avoid unduly influencing the group, a neutral site such as a hotel meeting room or a private dining room in a restaurant may be the better choice.

Keep good records. You should do this on two fronts: have someone take notes to capture discussion highlights, PLUS be sure to make an audio/video recording as well. Video is important because a lot of communication is nonverbal, and seeing such reactions during the meeting may be just as illuminating as the comments you hear.

If you hold one focus group and find the exercise to be both worthwhile and budget friendly, why not make them a regular part of your marketing research routine? (The more information you gather, the better, and you’ll only improve facilitation with additional practice.) On top of everything else, we believe you’ll find conducting focus groups to be a highly interesting and potentially very enjoyable experience.

Marketing as a New Year’s Resolution

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Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to grow your business? To do more marketing? To be more strategic? To work smarter, not harder? You’re not alone! Each year, our phones start ringing on January 2nd with clients ready to start off strong.

If you need support to refresh your brand, launch that new web site, generate new content, shoot new videos, design new marketing collateral, build relationships with the media, or just to keep you on track – we’re here for you. Let’s set up a meeting and discuss your resolutions!

Be More Awesome in 2016!

What Makes a Survey Worthwhile?

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We’re all familiar with ubiquitous greeting, “How are you?” Instinctively, we understand the only socially acceptable answer is “I’m fine.” If someone is truly interested, he or she might place a hand on our shoulder, look into our eyes with a concerned expression and say, “Seriously, how are you?” That’s how you should approach any survey conducted for marketing purposes; you must sincerely care about getting a truthful answer.

Of course, there’s one really big difference in our analogy: A survey for your business may seem to inquire as to how your customers feel, but what you’re really asking is, “How am I?” You may not really care how Uncle Ed is adjusting to his low-sodium diet, but you do have a huge interest in your own company.

Honesty in survey responses is everything. Only accurate answers are going to provide the intelligence you need for: identifying your true value proposition and managing your brand; making decisions regarding your product or service offerings; correcting operational deficiencies; or taking advantage of developing opportunities.

Getting the Most from a Marketing Survey

Caring about what your customers (or prospective customers) really think about your business is just the starting point for creating a worthwhile survey. Here are a few rules for survey construction that will put you on a path to gaining actionable information.

Use perfect grammar. We have grammar rules for reason—they help us better understand the messages carried by language. Consider the difference made by something as seemingly innocuous as comma placement. Consider: “Let’s eat, kids,” vs. “Let’s eat kids.”

Screen your survey subjects. Is the respondent a customer or someone who could easily become a customer? Demographics-related questions will help answer these questions. You might also want to ask questions to help weed out anyone with an incentive to provide faulty information such as someone working for a competitor.

Be clear what you are asking about. Ambiguity is your enemy. Generally speaking, short, direct questions are best—provided there’s a relatively limited list of logically possible answers. Longer questions can be okay provided they help narrow the respondent’s focus by setting parameters of consideration.

Group questions for logical progression. How questions are arranged will aid your subjects’ focus on various areas of interest within a survey. For longer surveys, distinctive grouping will help respondents feel they are making progress completing the questionnaire.

Provide applicable answer options. Many questionnaires provide survey subjects with a range of answer options—usually four or five. This will work fine, if you’re confident the vast majority of respondents will choose some answer other than “I don’t know” or “N/A.” A better approach may be to ask subjects to pick a point on a sliding scale to indicate their level of agreement, like or dislike, likelihood of taking some kind of action … etc., in response to the question.

Keep it brief. Any survey that takes longer than 5 – 10 minutes for the average person to complete is probably going to test respondent patience. You don’t want people to give up—or worse—hurriedly answer questions without regard to accuracy. If the survey absolutely has to be longer than 10 minutes, give the subject fair warning before they begin.

Once you have your completed surveys in hand, the real fun begins as you tabulate results. (Some people actually do enjoy statistical analysis … others, not so much.) Here are three important steps:

  • Group your respondents by their demographic profiles to help spot trends.
  • Record every question result to establish a baseline against which to measure future surveys.
  • Review poll results with an eye toward improving your next survey. (For instance, too many “N/A” or “no opinion” answers indicate a problem.)
  • Follow through and follow up. There’s really no point of doing a survey unless you act on the results. Additionally, you want to let your respondents know that you value their input, with some small token of appreciate if possible but a thank you email at a minimum.

The ‘science’ of surveys is relatively straightforward. The ‘art’ is in the interpretation. Initial thoughts of “what does this mean?” will often be followed by “but what does this really mean?” Talk the results over with: trusted staff members, friendly peers in your industry, insightful friends and family members, or even some of your best, longest-term customers. An openness to other assessments will keep you from hearing just what you want to hear, or from making mountains out of molehills.

Finally, resist the urge to be defensive in your reaction to negative survey results. Marketing research is designed to help improve your business. (You can’t improve what’s already perfect … and no organization is perfect.) Think of criticism as being like a friend who lets you know you have spinach stuck on a front tooth.  Conversely, if your feedback is glowingly positive, don’t simply set back on your laurels in smug satisfaction. Build on success by getting busy using the things you do well as a springboard for new outreach and business growth.

P.S. For more information about surveys, you might check out these online articles:

Sharing Survey Secrets at the American Marketing Association Conference

How to Create a Market Survey

Constructing a Questionnaire

How to Get More People to Take Your Survey

Analysis and Handling Survey Data

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