Focus groups provide authentic, personal insights


Mikalee Byerman
Published 1:52 p.m. PT Nov. 20, 2019


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As a person who lives and breathes your business, you know your customers’ thoughts, goals and obstacles from A to Z. Right?

I would suggest that in many cases, you do not. And that’s totally understandable, and totally OK.

Here’s why.

Sometimes — oftentimes — we are simply too close. It’s the forest-for-the-trees syndrome: Our sheer proximity to our audience means we may lose sight of things that are simply too obvious or too common sense. Alternatively, sometimes only authentically being part of that audience will shed the necessary light on things we need to know.

Case in point: A client recently asked us to work with them on a rebranding effort. As a component, we came up with a solid list of kick-booty names, vetted the choices thoroughly by researching emotions associated with the words in the names, investigated URL availability and pricing and performed copyright research. At the end of the day, we ended up with three solid choices.

And as an agency, we do what we usually do, which is to hold an informal “Which name will prevail?” contest.

This yielded one unanimous result among our entire team.

And, spoiler alert: We all predicted incorrectly.

But fortunately, we were prepared for this outcome — because we recognize that while we know marketing, we may not always have those critical authentic experiences that only our audience has.

So after our internal contest but before a name was selected, we facilitated a series of focus groups on behalf of our client to talk to the people who actually matter: their current and potential customers. And yes, they came up with an interpretation of the front-running name that only their experiences could offer. All were great names, but one was far preferable to the group — unanimously so, in fact.

We gleaned such powerful information from these focus groups — insights that will propel the new brand, speak specifically to our client’s desired audience and overcome their obstacles.

So when should you consider a focus group?

  • When you’re rebranding a business, because a strong brand needs to resonate first and foremost with the people who matter most: your customers.
  • When you believe you know your customers, inside and out. Audiences evolve, and talking to them directly about their personal experiences will yield unexpected and critical insights.
  • Basically, any time you think you just know. Powerful marketing connects with people on a personal level, and in order to truly understand mindsets, you must go to the source — to those aforementioned minds — directly.

Bottom line: To protect ourselves from the tunnel vision that sometimes happens in business, we must talk directly to the people who matter most.

Focus groups are invaluable. Sure, you may initially lose the “which name will prevail?” contest, but the resulting insights will make you and your business a winner in the long term.

Mikalee Byerman is the VP of strategy at the Estipona Group ( and NCET’s VP of communication. NCET ( is a member-supported non-profit that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology.

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