Why Are Product Managers Moving Away From Focus Groups?

Focus groups are the way that product managers used to find out how customers felt about their product
Focus groups are the way that product managers used to find out how customers felt about their product
Image Credit: RSNY

When a product manager is put in charge of a product, one of the first questions that they would like to be able to answer is just exactly what do potential customers think about the product? There are number of different ways to go about answering this question and testing our product development definition, but one way that we’ve all be using for a long time is the veritable focus group. However, there has always been a bit of a problem with this product management tool – what customers say and what they do can be two completely different things. What’s a product manager to do?

What’s Better Than A Focus Group?

Here in the 21st Century, what every product manager who is responsible for a consumer product would like to be able to do is to monitor what his or her customers were saying about that product on the countless different social media platforms that are out there. Tools that allow this kind of monitoring to be done are exactly what is starting to get rid of the old standby – focus groups. Let’s all agree on just exactly what a focus group is. You collect a diverse group of people who represent the types of customers that you believe are most likely to purchase your product. In a carefully controlled environment using a professional moderator, you ask them questions to find out what they think about your product, how they would go about using your product, and what would cause them to select your product over the competition. If we did this well, then we’d have something to put on our product manager resume.

However, the biggest problem with focus groups is that they are probably the most misused tool in a product manager’s toolbox. Now that tools are available to monitor social media, product managers have a new way of finding out what their customers really think about their products. The end result of collecting all of this social media data is that product managers can now perform better research. Better research means that the chances of making a big mistake in regards to your product should become less.

There are many different tools that are starting to give product managers the same information that they used to get from focus groups. One example of this is the eye-tracking technology that some firms are starting to use in order to pinpoint which packaging details most attract a customer’s attention. Additionally, product teams are starting to be built using people from a wider variety of backgrounds. These backgrounds can include social work and jury consulting. The key to making both these new tools and staff be successful is to make sure that the company collects enough information on their customers to determine what their buying habits are.

What Product Managers Will Be Using In The Future

The monitoring of social media in order to determine how customers are perceiving a brand has been given a name. This is now being called “social listening”. Companies want to collect the information and then make it available to all of the employees who need it. The goal of all of this is to provide product managers with new ways to study their customers and understand how they both live and shop. What product managers want to know is what products their customers are most likely to buy.

One of the biggest challenges that product managers are currently facing has to do with their millennial customers. These customers are unlike any that have come before them. Millennial customers are much more likely to jump from brand to brand and so it becomes hard for product managers to try to predict what they are going to end up buying. Additionally, millennial customers appear to be unmoved by so-called traditional advertising. This means that it can be very difficult to reach them with information about a given product.

One of the newest techniques that product managers are using to find out what their customers really want is to create online groups where their customers can mix together. Such groups can provide customers with an opportunity to sign up in order to learn more about the company’s products and interact with each other. Since product managers can monitor the conversations that occur on the site between members, this provides them with more insights than any focus group ever could. These type of inputs can lead to ideas for new packaging and innovative brand extensions.

What All Of This Means For You

Traditionally when product manager wanted to know more about what their customers were thinking, they would do what their product manager job description told them to do and go to the effort of creating a focus group. This required assembling a collection of customers whom the product manager felt best represented their customers and then asking them questions about the product. The problem with this is that often the information that they got was either wrong or at least misleading. Product managers needed something better.

In our modern times, product managers can now collect social media data in order to find out what customers really think about their product. Product managers are starting to use new tools such as eye-tracking technology and building more diverse product teams in order to gain better insights into what their customers might be thinking. Using “social listening” product managers are starting to hear what their customers are saying about their products. This is good news because product managers have been struggling to deal with millennial customers who don’t act like other customers. Product managers are starting to set up online groups that they can monitor in order to hear what their customers think about their products.

Times are changing and so product managers have to change with them. It used to be easy to try to read the minds of our customers – we’d just create a focus group and ask them a lot of questions. This never worked out all that well, but it was the best that we had. Today’s new social media tools provide us with a different way of collecting the same information. However, now we can be confident that the information is reliable. Today’s product managers have to become good listeners if they want their product to become a success!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a situation where a real focus group would still be valuable?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers we spend a great deal of our time trying to figure out how to get more people to buy our products. This is all fine, but it turns out that some of our most profitable customers may be the people who have already bought our product. Since they have already bought into our product development definition and agreed to buy one of our products, they may be more willing to buy more products, add-ons, and upgrades. Additionally, if they can remember that they have bought our product then they may be willing to recommend it to others. As product managers what we need to do is to start to send a newsletter to our customers in order to make sure that they remember us.