Behind the Mirror

I know what you think. If you’re not a researcher, you will definitely agree with me. We don’t like focus groups. Would it be for creative ideas or just to check concepts for a new product, we tend to believe that the reactions of the people participating to a closed-doors research will definitely not tell the truth. Or maybe they will. But we all know that conclusions will be biased by what they already know. In other words, focus groups are not the best tools to embrace change and bring some directions for new approach.

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Adam Grant, in his last book ‘Originals. How non-conformists move the world’, underlines pretty much the issue ‘In the face of uncertainty, our first instinct is often to reject novelty, looking for reasons why unfamiliar concepts might fail’. And this is the mindset that pops up when you put people together in a room and they know clearly that a team of marketing executives is behind the mirror.

They’re afraid to fail. While, it is expected from us to know exactly what they think, they intuitively believe it would be shameful to fail. ‘In principle, audiences should be more open to novelty than managers. They don’t have the blinders associated with expertise, and they have little to lose by considering a fresh format and expressing enthusiasm for an unusual idea. In practice though, Justin Berg finds that test audiences are no better than managers at predicting the success of new ideas: focus groups are effectively set up to make the same mistakes as managers (…) You’re conscious to the fact you’re there to evaluate it, not experience it, so you’re so judging from the start. Because you’re trying to figure out whether people will watch it, you naturally assess it against established ideas of how such a show ought to work’.

And if you talk about entertainment and shows in particular, you will discover that pilots never test well. So, what would be the solution? You have to bring life to the process. Watch films with the people, talk about new ideas, share thoughts with the target audience…but never tell them that you observe them. You will lose honesty and candor on the way.


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