The other day, I was thinking about AT&T’s “It’s Not Complicated” commercials.  The ones with the guy talking to a table full of kids and they say funny things.  When I first saw those spots, I didn’t really like them.  They were a little too “cutesy” and just didn’t really appeal to me.  Then after seeing different versions of them over time, I started to like them.  They got funnier.  But still, I couldn’t remember who was the advertiser.  It took me at least 30 times before I finally remembered unaided that it was for AT&T.  Now at that point, I liked the spots, but didn’t necessarily care for AT&T.  I have AT&T, but I don’t really like their service.  I was considering switching, when my contract ended and going to another carrier with the iPhone.  But there were those commercials again.  After maybe 50 impressions, then I started getting the actual message in my head – “it’s not complicated.”  And as my contract expiration approached, I started looking for a new plan at different carriers.  Guess what, a lot of them were kind of complicated.  So when my contract came up, I bought the newest iPhone and stuck with AT&T.  Irrational, I know.  But people rarely make rational decisions.

Now if you showed me a storyboard of that script and told me it was about a guy talking to some kids and the kids say silly things, I would have told you that doesn’t resonate with me and it would not make me stick with AT&T.  I get the premise, but how does that convince me to keep my phone?  The concept would have failed the focus group.  But it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have worked, which it did.

Focus groups can be a very useful tool in uncovering insights about the target audience and identifying potential ways to improve your marketing.  What it doesn’t do well is test what will actually work and won’t work in the real world.

If you were to focus group a new diet to potential users, there are many things you could ask them.  You could ask them about their past attempts to diet and what they liked and didn’t like.  You could ask them about different methods of dieting and how likely they’d be willing to try them.  You could show them an example of a diet program and ask them if they think they’d follow it or not.

Focus groups can help you determine how receptive people are to all of that.

But what it can’t do is predict how much weight other people are going to lose or even how long they’ll stay on the diet.  The only way to truly test that is if they actually go through the diet, not imagining what it would be like to be on that diet.

Just because people aren’t necessarily receptive to something doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.  So too, just because people love something doesn’t mean it will do anything for them.

Again, learning how people feel about things can generate invaluable insight that can propel the success of any product or service.

But at times, we tend to forget that how people feel initially doesn’t always align with what people actually do.  Just remember the difference.