Most designers and creative people are driven by the wonderful things people say about their work. We thrive on "atta boys" and awards. However, how does award winning creative alone help the small businessperson? Fact is, it doesn't.
An ad that has been creatively designed yet doesn't entice one customer to enter the store is ineffective and a waste of the clients dollars. To be able to know if the ad was a success financially one has to ask some questions. But of whom? And How? This is where the focus group comes in. In times past they were down at great expense by consulting firms whenever a client needed direction on his advertising needs. I participated in one several years ago when Reader's Digest was deciding to do a makeover on their magazine.
Focus groups don't have to be that way anymore. They can be as simple as a questionnaire on the clients website to as extensive as what Reader's Digest did. The purpose is to get feedback so you can determine if your advertising message is going in the right direction. If you are a retailer with a storefront this can be as simple as asking your customers how they heard about you, or if they have seen your latest ad. Attaching a coupon to an ad and then tracking how many people use the coupon can give you data.
Gathering a small group together informally and asking a few well-crafted questions can also give you an understanding as to how to reach your potential customers. All of these depend on asking the right questions in a manner that remains neutral so you can get as unbiased data as possible.
Here are some pointers to help:
First target your audience. Don't question a bunch of women if your selling jockstraps unless you are going after that particular market. Focus on who you product or service is for.
Design the questions. Keep them short in length and number. Ask questions that can be answered simply, in a qualitative manner. Make them open ended by easy to answer, not just yes or no. You want opinion. Allow space or time for general questions and discussions.
Do several small focus groups rather than one large one. If it's with a small group in person, be sure to have a good cross section of your potential customers. Have refreshments available.
Record the findings. Either by taking notes or tape-recording the proceedings. Keep the meeting in control and on schedule and don't go over an hour in length.
Be as neutral as possible. Hold it in a neutral meeting room rather than at your place of business. If online set up a web page that isn't connected with your company's page and doesn't have your logo on it. If it's a questionnaire, don't print it on your stationery just keep it plain. The more neutral you can be the better the data will be.
The more you do focus groups, and the more data you have the more you will be able to forecast what your customers want from you. Keep good records and focus group often.
Don't make the focus group process convenient for you; make it convenient for your customer. When Applebee's wanted to open another restaurant in Overland Park, they sent around someone during your dinner to ask you a bunch of questions about where you would like another one and so on. I was very put out by the tactic and did not like being interrupted by a pushy marketing person. Make sure your customer is comfortable answering you questions. If not you will contaminate your data with unreliable input.
Last of all listen to the data. If a majority of your customers want you to change your logo to blue...listen to them! If they want you to have longer hours...listen to them! In this way you build a strong relationship with them because they know you are listening to them and want their business. Focus groups give you direction so your creative team will know how to target your customers. It can be invaluable if done properly and the results acted upon.