Use Focus Groups for Branding Strategies!

To reduce risk and keep your organization, brand and image relevant in the eye of the public, you must actively use focus groups as a communication tool to assist in improving your branding strategies and decision-making process.

All this leads to the reasons focus groups are not just important to branding efforts, they are necessary. As I define and explain focus groups in greater depth, it will become clear why I feel so strongly the focus groups can be the key to your success.

 What is a Focus Group?

Focus GroupsIn market research, a focus group is a small number of people, usually gathered as a group with a moderator or facilitator. The group collectively “focuses” on a topic or series of topics, a product or a common theme. Ideally, this group will be made up of people that may have a vested interest in the product, topic, or theme of the group. The group can also be diverse and gather for generating ideas, direction or campaign effectiveness. Either way, the discussions taking place within the group produce qualitative data that can be used, in many cases, to represent the general population or the organizations target market.

The Purpose of a Focus Group…

The purpose of a focus group is multifaceted. First, focus groups are used to ascertain either diverse or common perspective on topics and ideas. The people chosen to participate in the focus group for this purpose will commonly represent people that could be affected by the topic or idea or the outcome of changes made as a result. A focus group is also a great way to deal with sensitive issues that could, or should, lead to change. In general, focus groups are assembled to collect feelings and attitudes about topics and ideas, and to collect reactions to them.

An additional benefit of focus groups is that they provide comparisons between the feelings, beliefs and experiences of different members of the group relative to your topic or idea. These comparisons can be used to gauge the impact of a decision to change something – or not to change it. Comparisons like those collected in these groups will shed light on the relevance of a topic or idea. If the idea isn’t relevant, a brand will die quickly or never live at all.

When focus groups are used in early stages of a market-specific study, for example, doors open to additional areas of study often quite relevant to the task at hand. They can also lead to subsequent survey or interview questions that prove useful for additional information collection. If business or product branding is the goal, the strategist can use the information collected to dig even deeper and gain better insight into the market and make important decisions about the brand.

I’d like to share an example of a recent major decision that was met with backlash and criticism. The adverse reaction may very well have been avoided had a focus group been utilized early in the decision-making process.

The example is the mascot change for the St Louis University Billikens. Ashley Jost with the Post-Dispatch published “SLU president finds humor in Internet backlash toward new mascot”  on September 22, 2016. The article highlights responses from the school president to an onslaught of tweets and other social media feedback from those who opposed the change in the mascot. They were not opposed to the change itself, rather they were opposed to the result – the new Billiken mascot.  While the article alludes very briefly to some early feedback from students about the impending change, there was no indication at all that a strategically formed focus group was assembled – which is exactly my point.

As part of this major change for the highly visible university and associated mascot, I believe a more thorough research strategy would have brought about a very different outcome. An outcome received more warmly I dare speculate. I am convinced that the risk of rejection of this new mascot design would have been reduced by including a focus group in the original re-design/re-branding process.

In the interest of full disclosure, a follow-up article published in the Post-Dispatch on October 5, 2016, Billiken backlash: SLU will redesign mascot again, SLU’s president announced a re-design would ensue because of the extensive backlash received. Ultimately he did take a unique approach to making his re-design decision. Take a look at the video of his… focus group?  What a concept! There is little doubt that President Pestello’s Twitter following has increased dramatically recently.

For branding in business, there is so much at stake and the pressure is on to get it right… the first time. At Chemistry Multimedia, we believe a well-planned branding strategy is essential for branding and marketing your business or organization. We apply this principle to every aspect of what we do as a full-service multimedia agency. Conducting focus groups is just one part of a great plan. We have the experience and the team that gets it right. Call us today and learn how we can help you achieve your marketing and branding goals.