Monday, February 23, 2009

Twitter: "The Ultimate Focus Group?"

First of all, no I do not endorse spending money on focus groups. I believe your money should be spent up front, identifying the right strategic and development opportunities...and focus groups can't do that. Some people still peddle focus groups for validation research to confirm hypotheses prior to market-wide launch, but this too is shaky ground.

Today the NYT ran a piece about Tropicana's decision to axe their new packaging design. Coincidentally, I was just writing about this packaging this weekend. The article is very positive about the effect of instantaneous consumer feedback on marketing and business decisions. It includes several quotes from a PR exec, including this:
“Twitter is the ultimate focus group,” Mr. Shankman said. “I can post something and in a minute get feedback from 700 people around the world, giving me their real opinions.”
While it's great to hear that businesses are listening to the average consumer, there's an underlying threat beneath this progressive mindset. It's easy to imagine how tempted companies will be to "test run" virtual concepts using Twitter-like informational goldmines. It'll be so easy to solicit feedback that many will bypass costly front-end development, sacrificing any opportunity for true user insights based on contextual experience.

Remember, Tropicana consumers had the opportunity to shop for, purchase, open, use, and contemplate the new packaging - that is the only reason they responded with enough passion and conviction to overturn the company's decisions. Smart companies will learn how to take advantage of articulated feedback without letting it overwhelm the unique insights you gain only from ethnographic research and observation.

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