by Kristin Brighton on April 2, 2014

As I get older, I care less and less about what people think about me. However, when I’m working for clients, I need to know what people think about them. Otherwise, my work is purely based on a guess. And while I’ve learned a lot in my career about what works and what doesn’t for clients, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that talking directly to the target audience is the best way to build a successful marketing strategy.

And my favorite (and most cost-effective) way to do this is through focus groups.

Now, don’t roll your eyes. Because focus groups have been overused in politics and corporate America, the term has developed a semi-negative connotation. Which is a shame, because when we’ve used focus groups for cities, counties, schools, nonprofits and private businesses, they’ve been a very powerful tool.

Here’s why…

When new clients first come into our office, we frequently ask the same three basic questions:

  • What is your goal in seeking our help?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What will it take to inspire your audience to act so you achieve your goal?

For some, these are easy questions, but more often than not, people are so engrossed in the day-to-day complexities of what they (and their competitors) do, they can’t get enough perspective to answer. While clients usually say their goal is to achieve more — more revenue, more enrollments, more donors, and so forth — they often don’t quite know:

  • Who their audience is
  • Whether their goal is realistic, given the market
  • How that goal can be measured
  • What factors their target audience weighs when choosing to do business with them
  • What their competitive advantage is within their market
  • What their reputation is within their audience and community

New clients often come to us because they want to take their business “up a notch.” Frequently, these clients have been handling their marketing decisions themselves, and they’ve most likely made strategy and creative decisions based on personal opinion, anecdotal feedback, and hunches.

What separates New Boston from do-it-yourself marketers is that we look beyond anecdotes and personal opinions, and develop strategies based upon research. That’s why we prefer to start a new client relationship with a discovery process that let’s us examine an organization through some combination of:

  • An online digital analysis 
  • A competitive analysis
  • A review of existing marketing materials and any previous surveys or other research
  • Key-person interviews
  • Surveys (mail, email, phone, etc.)
  • Focus groups (again, my personal favorite)

Of all these tools, focus groups can be perhaps the most insightful and affordable tool available. They are a great way to test new ideas — new names, logos, websites, products and services, marketing concepts, pricing structures, etc. — on the target audience.

But focus groups don’t have to focus on marketing alone. Through focus groups, we can get qualitative insights to other issues that can be barriers to achieving your goal, including feedback on business policies, pricing, competitors, hours of operation, customer service, and locations.

Ask yourself, would your business benefit from knowing:

  • Common misperceptions about who you are and what you do
  • What your reputation is in your community
  • What your competition’s reputation is in the community
  • What your audience thinks about your current branding and marketing
  • How you could better service your clients
  • What forms of advertising are reaching your target audience
  • What forms of communication your target audience depends on for information
  • What social media platforms, radio stations, cable stations, etc., your target audience uses

As a side note, another benefit of local focus groups is that nearly every time we host one, participants tell us they enjoyed the experience — sometimes they tell us to put them on the list for future groups! So, an indirect outcome is that the people who participated can become new ambassadors for your business or endeavor — they feel invested in your success because you cared enough to hear what they had to say.

If you’d like our help learning more about what people think about your business, or what your target audience thinks about a key decision that impacts how your entity will grow, call us today or fill out the Project Planner form to get started. If you can’t tell, we jive on this stuff!