Five Reasons Why Focus Groups Fail

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

- Henry Ford


Focus groups are frequently used to predict consumer reactions to things like movies, tv shows, and new products, but focus groups have a track record full of failures. So why do we keep using them?

According to Daniel Gross, focus groups have become ingrained into our approval process more for the sake of decision makers than for the sake of consumers. Focus groups have fixed costs, are timely, and most often used to affirm preconceived notions: "See, they agree!"

What focus groups don't do is accurately predict how consumers will react. According to Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think, 80% of new products fail within the first six months, many of which go through focus groups.

So, why do focus groups fail? Focus groups fail because:

  1. People can't predict what they want and don't understand their own motives for making decisions.
  2. Consumers have other motivations for answering and participating in the group than contributing to the end product.
  3. Focus groups address symptomatic, surface level issues rather than the root problem.
  4. The social dynamics of a focus group have an effect on people's answers. Whether it's because they desire to maintain their image, give the appropriate answer, or just fit in, people often lie when they are put in situations with strangers and asked questions.
  5. Focus groups assume consumer input is valid, regardless of the individual's relevant knowledge or experience.
Written by Chris Allison on December 31, 2009


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Written by
Chris Allison