Focus groups – the fantasy that keeps on giving

If you’re a consumer and asked to participate in a focus group, do it. It’s a good gig…you get paid to give your opinions and reactions to ideas and concepts. And, it can be fun.

If you’re a spirits marketer and have a yen to sit behind a one way mirror (kind of a voyeur thing), eat M&Ms, lousy pizza (or sushi), stale pretzels and listen to a boring moderator and consumers who are lying through their teeth about what they drink and why…well, that’s a great way to get away from home and feel like you’re in touch with the market. Dream on.

Truth of it is focus groups among consumers in the booze business are a waste of time. The moderator is putting on a show for those behind the one-way mirror. Those behind the mirror spend their time playing with their computers and asking the moderator to pose questions that meet their preconceived points of view.

This may not be true in many consumer businesses but, in my experience, describes focus groups in the booze industry.

I know because I’ve been on both side of the one-way mirror (moderator or observer) for literally scores if not hundreds of group sessions.

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Insights, market research and crystal balls

I started my work life as a consumer market researcher and I’ve been a provider and user of consumer insight information throughout my career. So let me share some thoughts with you.

First and foremost, market and insight research – focus groups or surveys – are descriptive tools, not a predictive ones. A few great examples of the failure to predict: Absolut failed in focus group research; a new product named Green Sleeves was predicted to be a huge success…ever hear of it; research on flavored tequilas suggested a huge potential.

So if you want to describe what people are doing and gain insight into current behavior, use market research. To predict future consumer behavior, get a crystal ball.

The reason? It doesn’t cost research respondents anything to say what they think you want to hear. So, in my opinion, what they tell you about how they will act, will behave or will buy is similarly worthless.

Even in the descriptive arena, to paraphrase the old adage, “market research is like a lamppost, some people lean on it and some are illuminated by it.” That’s where the insights come in.

Final thought – focus groups among consumers. Save your money. See the next posting.

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Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves

The Bronfman family changed the face of the booze business in America. Old Mr. Sam, regardless of what he did or did not do during prohibition, was smart enough when it ended to hold off shipping goods until they aged, had great taste and would command a premium price.

In his grandson’s office – that would be Edgar Bronfman Jr. – there was a photo of Mr. Sam with the caption, “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” That was his way of saying from nothing to nothing. In a biography on A&E, Edgar Jr. looked into the camera and earnestly said, “not on my watch.”

Not long after, at the turn of the century, the “genius,” as he was referred to, sold the birthright for a song.

No worries…the family holdings must have gone from $8 Billion to $3 Billion, I suppose. But, still a boatload of money.

Not quite shirtsleeves but prophetic nonetheless.

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