I find there’s something very therapeutic about attending focus groups.
Not because everything the respondents say is nice. On the contrary, in my experience, they often attack the client’s brand with vehemence and venom and occasionally rip apart much-treasured campaign ideas in front of their creator’s eyes.
It is, however, very reassuring to know what you are up against.
Groups are a journey of discovery in a maze of communications chaos, a mapping exercise of the dead-ends and potholes your campaign needs to avoid and the helpful signposts for the way out.
They never cease to offer moments of enlightenment, usually a hidden learning about how people feel about the brand or a turn of phrase that brilliantly summarises the issue.
Run properly, groups should provide those watching behind the one-way mirror an intimate viewing of the inner feelings and emotions that make up their consumers.
What campaign could do without that?
It’s because of this that I think it should be required that CEOs observe focus groups. It’s a very rare occurrence for senior managers to join us in the backroom. Of course, they are busy people, hence why they pay people like me to conduct the groups and provide them with the answers.
But if I was the CEO I’d want to hear it all first hand: what their customers really feel about their company; the words customers use about their products and services; what they think about the competition and what the CEO needs to do to make sure their business stays ahead of the rest.
To be an effective CEO you need to be a good listener and focus groups are like your own dedicated, private line to the inner thoughts of your most important audiences.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Of course CEOs don’t need to attend groups all the time. For one thing they’d be too busy, and anyway the endless focus group diet of sweets and takeaways would quickly bring the nation’s executives to their knees.
But it should be an expectation that business leadership spend time in the backroom, listening and learning. They won’t like everything they hear, no doubt. But they will also discover something new about their customers and will be better placed to navigate the road ahead as a result.