Voices and faces that make billions

Brand owners need useful feedback to decide. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Marketers can engage with consumers directly and get immediate feedback when they use focus groups.
  • From these, they can identify the components that need improving or completely changing in their brand.

More than two-thirds of the total market research spending of Fortune 500 companies goes to focus groups, in a bid to get consumer feedback on their products that sees them avoid risk and increase sales.

Focus group main research techniques include surveys and questionnaires, observation, trials and experimentation and in-depth interviews, giving companies first-hand information on consumer preferences and attitude towards a brand.

“Marketers can engage with consumers directly and get immediate feedback when they use focus groups. From these, they can identify the components that need improving or completely changing in their brand,” said Stella Kimani, a brand strategist.

“In addition to this, behaviours such as voice tone, gestures and facial expressions can also be analysed, adding to the data collection, as they are also a part of the responses, although focus groups can also be conducted online.”

This can play an important role for companies seeking competitive advantage in new and old markets or in determining ‘what would happen if’, and can also give them the confidence to make their product available to a larger market because it has been pre-approved.

It is this invaluable consumer approval that Fortune 500 companies depend on, with one study reporting that across these companies, 70 per cent of their entire market research budget is spent on focus groups.

“Focus groups are an ideal research choice for gaining insights. They allow for open-ended questions and expansive answers, and the process stimulates observation room discussions that can generate the penetrating mental vision or discernment that defines insights. Many manufacturers recognise the value in such discussions and field focus groups for deep understanding of their customers. Sometimes, though, focus groups are selected as a fast, cut-rate methodology to answer questions that are better included in quantitative research,” reported the Marketing Research Association of the US, which groups companies that specialise in market research, consumer opinion and related marketing intelligence.

An example of a company that has used this strategy successfully to gauge its target market preferences is US pizza restaurant, Domino’s.

In 2009, the company was in a crisis, with its sales declining and its stock price falling, due to an increase in competition in the industry, harsh customer criticism over the taste of its pizzas, and low customer satisfaction. In a bid to tackle this, it formed a focus group of its customers to determine where it was lacking in its food delivery.

“At a broad level, we were working to overcome years of people’s negative perceptions across the US. Qualitative studies and focus groups revealed just how difficult the challenge would be, producing damning customer quotes such as ‘Domino’s tastes low-quality and forgettable,’ ‘Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard,’ and ‘Domino’s sauce taste like ketchup’, “ read a Domino’s case study titled How Domino’s and Crispin Porter & Bogusky transformed the pizza chain into a tech company.

“You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energise your process of making a better pizza. We did the latter.”

It launched a new pizza recipe which included seasoning the crust with garlic and parsley, baking to a golden brown, its sauce was sweetened with a medley of herbs and a red pepper kick.

The strategy saw the company launch new recipes and flavours, achieving a sales increase of 14.3 per cent in the first quarter after the relaunch.

“The sales trumped the company’s expectations and more than two-thirds of consumers said they will be back to our restaurants after tasting the new pizza flavours,” said Domino’s chief marketing officer Russell Weiner.

Indeed, globally, and across every industry sector, asking consumers, in detail, how they find a product, and listening carefully to their answers, has proven an invaluable tool in creating products that consumers generally rate.

- African Laughter

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