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Steve Jobs v. Focus Groups 2.0

October 26th, 2012

Steve Jobs did not believe in focus groups. In fact, the genius behind the brand said in a 1998 Business Week article, “It’s really hard to design products by focus group. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

With the rise of social media engagement between consumers and brands, it begs the question where is the balance between Steve Jobs’ philosophy and the growing trend of online focus groups? Do small budget online focus groups work?

All research points beyond Steve Jobs’ generation to the Millennials, also known as GenY. Millennials, which grew up with Apple products, social networks and a multi-task frame of mind, are now influencing brands and television scripts through online engagement. Milennials are known to identify with brands that share their “voice” and view on social responsibility rather that the traditional definition of brand loyalty.

Marketers are taking a more active role in “listening” to brand chatter to find niche positioning and engagement strategies to reach GenY. Here are a few examples:

  • Writers of “Vampire Diaries” wrote a scene into the script based on Twitter comments. (show averaged 57,000 comments per episode in 2011-2012 season).
  • Frito-Lay crowd-sourced its development of new flavors of Lay’s potato chips via Facebook, with a $1 million prize.
  • Sam Adams partnered with Guy Kawasaki to create a crowd-sourced brew via Facebook and debuted it during SXSW in Austin.
  • McDonald’s targeted Millennials in launching Chicken McBites through a call for amateur filmmakers and creative’s to create a short video on the topic of “Bite-Sized.” Videos received over 245,000 views and had 20.28% social engagement rate.

The traditional focus group trends, at least for GenY, have shifted to low-budget crowd-sourced groups through social networking platforms. It’s not the Steve Jobs philosophy, but it is a significant shift in how marketers collect information, at a lower cost compared to traditional focus groups. The added bonus, or determent depending on how you look at it, is that the online group is often composed of people that already have a vested interest in the brand.

These new online focus groups are a great tool for marketers to get instant feedback for a low budget.  We do advise marketers not to take everything to heart. Like any focus group there are skewed results. Rather we advise a  balance of online focus groups, market research and the Steve Jobs philosophy of telling people what they want, not asking.

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