Lying groups” have been guiding new product development efforts.
I wonder if having a good and comprehensive set of focus groups really helps companies either to develop the right products for the right customers and to achieve a successful innovation process towards the right new product devel.
opment or it’s just an expensive and complex (and maybe believed sophisticated) way marketers use to justify their own isolated decisions.
It’s known that focus groups have certain strengths and several flaws as well, (I will talk specifically about focus groups in upcoming posts) but there is a great piece of evidence to prone to the flaws of this practice.
Malcolm Gladwell gave a short lecture about….I don’t know what it was about –spaguetti sauce, marketing, innovation-, anyway! It was about how The Campbell Soup Company introduced to the market a spaghetti sauce that would succeed as a true champion.
He tells the story about how Howard Moskowitz, an American psychophysicist who failed to tell Pepsi what was the “right” amount of aspartame needed to make the perfect Pepsi Light back in mid 70’s. It was a failure because after testing the “formulas” (a number of samples with different quantity of aspartame each) there was no way to find a pattern comprising the majority of the answers gotten (Something like normal distribution 2.5% – 95%-2.5%). There was no such distribution at all, much less it was normal. So Pepsi had to make an arbitrary decision and went with a quantity in the middle of the tested range. They got way to many different results from thousands of random testers that it was impossible to try to find a winner range.
Obsessed with this fact, Moskowitz kept thinking about it until he finally found a reason for this.
The enlightenment came in the form of this thought: “They were asking the wrong question, they were looking for the perfect PEPSI and they should’ve been looking for the perfect PEPSISSSSS”. So he went to say this to Pepsi’s people, but they didn’t buy the idea.
Later, Campbell Soup Company needed to find a way to boost the performance of their spaghetti sauce “Prego” in the early 80’s which was struggling to beat Ragu, the dominant sauce then. The story stands in the fact that technically Prego’s quality was far superior than Ragu, but it was not enough… so they called Howard.
Moskowitz went and made 45 different spaghetti tomato sauces. Differences of each of them were as simple or stupid or detailed as you would imagine. Then he went to the field and tested the sauces by putting testers to taste 10 different sauces each. After months of work, he had a massive amount of data and he made his analysis by going beyond the “highest rated” analysis to look for the BEST sauce. Instead he grouped all the responses into clusters. So the main result was the discovery of 3 broad groups in which all Americans can be segmented regarding their tomato sauce preference: Plane, Spicy, & Extra Chunky. This last was something new. It was not available in supermarkets by then. Howard made it up.
Cambells introduced this strange flavour (hesitating about it actually) and they soon took over the spaghetti sauce business of US. According to Malcom Gladwell, in the following 10 years of the launch, they made 600 million dollars from the product line of extra chunky sauces.
The really important contribution of this is that Howard shifted an old deeply embedded assumption in market research’s practice that claimed that “asking people what they want” is the best way to give customers a product with the special capability to make them happy.
This is fighting focus groups effectiveness. Because they had done this (focus groups) during 30 years before Moskowits and no one ever said they wanted “extrachunky” sauce.
This is because focus groups CAN’T fight social typos, people would never say the truth knowing that their own perception of things is not the generally accepted way something should be…so no trust in any focus group session.
The bottom line is that there is no way to find any “universal something”! this meaning one single way to treating all people. Variability is a result of growing population, so companies found a way to increase their capability to try to please the most of them……and with this their shareholders.
Finally, Malcolm closes his lecture with a magnificent invitation to embrace variety in life, basing his thought in the fact that a good sauce can make you feel ok, but a sauce that you really want would make you deliriously happy. “By embracing the diversity of human being, we will find the true way to human happiness”. –Malcolm Gladwell.
What do you think? Would you still spend money in Focus Groups?
Check the whole story here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIiAAhUeR6Y