Seller Beware
The Customer is Not Always Right!

Seller Beware. What consumers say and do often contradict.

If you use focus groups, depth interviews, you need to know what works and doesn’t work.

Consumers sometimes can’t explain why they behave the way they do. Many behaviors are automatic. People don’t think about them.

The subconscious mind governs the majority of behaviors. The subconscious mind also shapes attitudes, perceptions, feelings, beliefs, and desires.

Sometimes, consumers cannot tell you why they like or dislike a product. Attitudes are complex. They consist of knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, feelings, desires, and opinions buried deep in the subconscious mind. People cannot explain their subconscious.

Seller Beware - Emotional Buying Behavior

Emotions influence buying behavior.

But, most people can’t explain their emotions. And many prefer to keep sensitive emotions secret.

Seller Beware - Wired Neurons - Connected to the Past

Minds are wired for the here-and-now, based on previous experience.

Past personal experience, stories, frames, conceptual metaphors, emotions, and worldviews are impressed into each individual’s neural circuitry. Future experience is not.

And, people can’t tell you accurately what they will do in the future. People cling to what they know, do, feel, and believe.

It is hard for people to predict what they will do in the future, especially with entirely new products, categories, and technologies.

Consumers prefer the familiar, and have a tough time describing the unknown. And, consumer attitudes and behaviors change, as new trends and circumstances affect their lives.

Seller Beware - Low Interest Products …Who Cares?

And, consumers don’t pay much attention to low interest products.

They simply don’t spend much time thinking about them.

And they don’t think a lot about why they buy them.

Much of buying behavior is reflexive, not reflective, for low interest products.

Seller Beware - Socially Acceptable Answers

Also, consumers serve up socially acceptable opinions.

They don’t want to reveal their inner secrets about sensitive matters. Or can't articulate feelings or cultural beliefs.

So they tell you something different of what they really feel and think – white lies, half-truths, untruths. It happens.

The solution is to use depth interviews. When you want to investigate sensitive topics, use one-on-one depth interviews. Recognize bias and use the right research tools to deal with it.

Seller Beware: Don’t Shoot the Focus Group

Over the past few years, it has become fashionable to bash focus groups. Some marketing gurus have written them off completely.

On November 14, 2005, BusinessWeek ran an article with the headline, "Shoot the Focus Group".

The article is a laundry list of complaints about focus groups. Here's the BusinessWeek article about focus groups.

Writing off focus groups entirely is shortsighted and dangerous.

It’s like saying don’t fly, because airplanes crash. It’s like saying don’t use a surgeon because malpractice happens. It’s like saying throw out the hammer because it can’t turn screws.

Seller Beware: Focus groups remain popular.

Government, businesses, and universities continue to use focus groups extensively and frequently. They see value in focus groups.

The focus group industry is a billion dollar a year industry, with over 1,000 focus group facilities exist in North America.

Focus groups support other types of research.

How to Use Focus Groups and Depth Interviews

Focus groups and depth interviews are marketing tools.

There are many marketing research tools. You need to know which tool to apply for the right job.

You don’t use a hammer to turn a screw; you use a screwdriver.

Same with focus groups…you don’t use focus groups to draw statistical conclusions; you use quantitative research.

Use focus groups or depth interviews to


A focus group or depth interview is a tool. It’s a tool to discover and explore. It’s one of many tools, in the research toolbox.

When you don’t know much about a market, focus groups and depth interviews are worthwhile. Inquiring about new markets, trends, segments, customers, prospects, competitors, and channels produce knowledge and insight.

When you are looking for fresh ideas or new perspectives, interviewing customers, prospects, and experts, focus groups and depth interviews are worthwhile.

Expert opinion is worthwhile.

Subject matter experts can guide you quickly through unfamiliar territory. They posses insider facts, knowledge, and considered judgment. You interview senior magazine editors, professionals, consultants, analysts, senior executives, distributors, dealers, and retailers in an industry.

When you are looking for unmet needs and wants, you need to talk to customers, and prospects. They can tell about their current problems. It’s up to you to solve their problems with innovative solutions.

When you embark on new product development, you want to sort out good ideas from bad. Use concept test focus groups or depth interviews as a perspective for evaluation. Talk to customers, prospects, and experts. Get their reactions. Weigh what they say. Don't jump to absolute conclusions. Investigate.

Test market focus groups provide data, information, and insights about product use and buying behavior. Talk to customers in test markets.

Focus groups and depth interviews can help you reduce failed product launches. About nine of 10 new consumer products fail.

Treat a failed product launch as a product use test or test market. It is consumer behavior. Learn from it. Interviewing customers, prospects, and experts helps you from repeating the same mistakes. The sooner you fail, the sooner you will be successful.

When you are trying to understand if your customers and prospects understand your advertising messages, use concept to them. They can tell you what they understand or don’t understand. They can also reveal their associations with imagery. Understand their reactions.

When you want to know about competitors, talk to their customers. Talking to them will give you knowledge about why they don’t buy your products and services.

When you need to identify people’s emotions – the ones that drive buying behavior – you need to use the right interviewing techniques to draw out the information. Laddering and projective techniques work.

Golden Nuggets - Insights and Knowledge

In the mountain of information you amass by interviewing customers, prospects, and experts, you may find a couple nuggets of gold - insights and knowledge.

They can transform your product development, advertising creation, and marketing strategy and tactics.

Use the right tools for the job. Know when and how to apply focus groups and depth interviews.

Seller Beware: Know how to use focus groups, and you’ll gain valuable insight and knowledge and new perspectives.

And serve your customers better, and maybe get a jump on your competitors.

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