focus group

“If Henry Ford had asked his customers, they would have told him they want a faster horse.”

Here’s the reason market research can be misleading and send you down the wrong path.

It’s a fallacy that effective marketing isn’t about asking people about what they want and then delivering it. That’s only partially right. It’s really about getting a deep understanding of your target audience and then finding ways to meet their needs. A small nuance, but a critical one.

People rarely express what they truly want. They may say they want a new handbag or a new car. But what they’re really looking for is to feel better about themselves. Most people want to save money, but at times choose a name brand over an identical product that’s cheaper.

In 2007, focus group after focus group said they preferred smartphones with a keypad and a stylus. A lot of people were perfectly fine with writing their emails on a monochromatic screen. Little applications on your phone were nice to have add-ons, but didn’t really add much value to a phone, unless you got bored and wanted to play Solitaire. People were looking for smaller and cheaper.

Then the iPhone came out and changed everything. Touchscreens and swiping are the dominant user interface. Apps have transformed the usefulness of a mobile phone. People actually want bigger and bigger high resolution screens. But they needed to be shown it first because they don’t know the possibilities.

It’s not a consumer’s job to tell companies the exact product they’re looking for and how best to market it to them. That’s our job. We need to focus more on creating interesting things and less on listening verbatim.

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re always going to be right. We may create something that theoretically should fulfill a consumer’s needs perfectly. But it’s too early (e.g. Apple Newton). They don’t want to change (e.g. New Coke). Or they just don’t get it (e.g. QR codes in the US).

But the key is to have a process for creating new things and communicating it in different ways. Some will work and some won’t. But no one’s going to tell us before it’s here.