The Anti Focus Group Movement

I’m strongly against focus groups.

I sat uncomfortably in a room. The five attendees showed up casually, one after the other. And then we started the session – a focus group.

A couple of years ago, I was subcontracted a project for a prominent regional brand, Al-Rifai. It was my first big-ish client, and I wanted to impress. I was essentially reporting to a middle man that had sold Al-Rifai on a big project, and I was subcontracted a part of it.

Al-Rifai are well known for their nuts. With coffee becoming more and more popular in Kuwait, they wanted to double down on the opportunity. Al-Rifai has long sold coffee, but their coffee was always secondary to nuts.

We were assigned to find the best possible approach for Al-Rifai to put the spotlight on their coffee, and they wanted an innovative solution. That’s where I came into play. I was supposed to be the magician that comes up with an original, yet easily implementable, idea.

I took on the challenge.

I went about my approach, applying the best tactics I know to better understand the audience and what they really wanted. Once I was done with my research, I arrived at three distinct ideas that AlRifai might be interested in implementing.

Before we were to sit with AlRifai representatives, my subcontractor felt the need for a focus group. In their mind, this was to confirm that the ideas I had come up with were appealing to this focus group.

I sat uncomfortably in the room. The five attendees showed up casually, one after the other. And then we started the session. It wasn’t long before one of the participants established themselves as the guru of coffee. When we first began the session, we had everyone introduce themselves. He introduced himself as the owner of a bean supplier (along with obtaining some form of certification in coffee, If I recall correctly). I knew then that the responses we’d get from the entire session would be useless.

As expected, the other participants skewed their answers to align with his. Whenever he responded first to an open query, the others simply nodded their heads in approval, and had nothing else to add.

I’m strongly against focus groups. I’m an advocate for one-on-one meetups. When you’re trying to understand what people want, it’s incredibly difficult to remove their biases. Putting people in a focus group further magnifies these biases.

Opt against focus groups.

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