If you are an avid viewer of Mad Men, as I am, you watched last Sunday as Faye, the focus group moderator and “behind the mirror” lover of Don Draper, was suddenly dumped in favor of the hot new thing. Now, Don doesn’t really know much about Megan, his secretary / soon-to-be-wife. She’s young and new and shiny. She’s easy-going and grateful to be noticed. And she’s cheap – not in a trashy way – but in a easy to be impressed because she makes $70 a week way. She also fits well with his non-professional side (Dad) whereas he and Faye had a history professionally. Faye didn’t always agree with him and demanded respect for her work. Megan? Breathless, big-eyed hero worship.
Ok, so this is a rather strained metaphor for how traditional focus groups are being dumped in favor of younger, less demanding, shinier approaches. For many years, “creatives” have slammed focus groups as idea crushers. But with few alternatives available, they were still the flavor du jour when it came to copy and ad testing. Here’s a funny video that pretty much sums up how many agency creatives I know felt about focus groups:
Fast forward a few thousand years – well, about fifty since focus groups first appeared on the scene. Now qualitative research has taken on a whole new meaning – many meanings in fact. To the holy trinity of focus groups, IDIs and ethnography, we can now add a bunch of evolving tools and methodologies made possible by the explosion of the internet and social media. Most of the talk in established qualitative circles concerns how to incorporate these approaches into the QRC’s toolbox and the opportunities to grow new business. The implication being that you had better be nice to the new girl or else.
I actually like the new girl. But I’m still loyal to my old friend and not about to abandon her in her time of need. Yes, she’s made a lot of mistakes. She’s lost sight of her beginnings and sometimes she’s been running with a bad crowd. And she is sometimes more concerned about fancy clothes than what lies beneath. But fundamentally she is special and needs our help and support.
Enough of the metaphor.
In future posts, I’ll be writing more about why I believe traditional focus groups still have value and what we can be doing to retain the best of this methodology in a world full of exciting alternatives.
And if any first wives were offended by the headline, I’m sorry. At least it got you to read this far!