Trump vs. Fox News signals a major focus group fail – CIO

I was reminded of why Steve Jobs hated focus groups when I watched the Fox News coverage of the Republican debate, specifically with respect to Donald Trump. Part of that coverage was to have a focus group expert query a captive focus group about their pre- and post-debate impressions — he instead showcased why most firms should never use focus groups.  

In a nutshell, focus groups are really lousy at predicting anything and while they can be good at analyzing past behavior, they are so easily manipulated they generally turn out to be less than worthless (because they can lead folks to believe in a world that doesn’t exist). As a result, it is rare you can depend on their results.

I spent a lot of my life doing market studies and I’ve both been in and funded focus group studies. Only in some very narrow instances would I ever consider using them. Let me walk you through why.

What a focus group is

A focus group is a way of sampling a population in order to determine why they did something or what they will do in a given situation. In order for it to work it has to be both representative of the population and not be corrupted by any aspect of the focus group process. The goal isn’t lots of drama, the goal is to gain understanding. Its advantage over doing other forms of sampling is you can pick up emotions you wouldn’t get out of a questionnaire and, done right, the responses are typically far more nuanced and granular.  


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