4 ways to have a more “future focused” approach with consumer insights.
While underwhelming respondents, overtaxing travel and over-consumption of M&Ms might be the most frequent complaints about Focus Groups, the issues run much deeper. Innovation demands fresh thinking – yet for decades consumer research has maintained a fairly stagnant approach for cultivating key insights and evaluating opportunities. The problem is that, by definition, focus groups explore consumer’s current perceptions and attitudes – and with innovation if you aim for today you’ll hit yesterday.
The voice of the consumer is critical to the innovation process – but how do you avoid having your insights rendered obsolete before you can even leverage them? We’ve identified 4 key ways in which a more “future focused” approach can help in avoiding some of the most common pitfalls associated with consumer insights work.
- Pre-Sights vs Insights. Because trends are moving through the “adoption curve” with increasing speed, today’s Early Adopters look a lot like tomorrow’s mainstream consumer. This fact underscores the value of “pre-sights” over insights: incorporating an understanding of shifting demographics and trends, and engaging consumers and Subject Matter Experts that best help you anticipate the approaching marketplace dynamic.
- Recruit Creative Consumers. Traditional research recruits consumers who best match their current, or target, profile. For your average consumer, however, it’s extremely hard to imagine ideas that don’t exist in the marketplace – or new ideas in general (which, of course, is the goal of innovation!). Creative Consumers are recruited for their greater abstract reasoning and high articulation. It’s more than being able to give a coherent answer to a conceptual question on a screener – recruiting “creatives” demands more extensive dialogue to ensure the right personality, candor and imagination to contribute significantly in the group setting.
- Use Ahead-of-the-Curve Markets. According to a recent study, Nashville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis are the three “most representative” markets in the US – conversely San Francisco (#301), Portland (#118) and Austin (#169) are extremely “unrepresentative.” Yet if you are conducting focus groups for – let’s say – a new food product these latter three more “foodie” savvy markets will absolutely be better predictors of tomorrow’s mainstream trends than cities that are more representative of the general population.
- Re-Think the Group Format. The conventional model of impartial, probing moderators working through an exhaustive discussion guide is not well suited for innovation work. “Future forward” groups utilize facilitators that engage the participants in active development – often times with the client seated in the same room, not behind the glass. This co-creation approach is ideal for fresh input and imaginative concept optimization – but, as always, it’s important not to expect consumers (no matter how creative) to be the source of new ideas.
These ideas may not keep you from eating too many M&Ms, but hopefully it will help you to better position your brand, product or organization within an increasingly complex, changing and competitive marketplace.