Stop Focus Groups – Connect With Real People

Jeremiah Owyang recently outlined the future of the social web: in five eras

The Five Eras of the Social Web:

1) Era of Social Relationships: People connect to others and share
2) Era of Social Functionality: Social networks become like operating system
3) Era of Social Colonization: Every experience can now be social
4) Era of Social Context: Personalized and accurate content
5) Era of Social Commerce: Communities define future products and services

Why not skip to step 5 now and jump ahead of the competition?  We have the technology already, even if you have to get a bit scrappy.  Yes social commerce is going to be a cleaner experience in the future, but it is fully possible today.

Polling audiences and focus grouping ideas/new products behind closed doors, in controlled settings is fast becoming a thing of the past.  What is possible (and cheap) right now is testing ideas, content, products and marketing creative in the wild.  Then, let your community decide what you bring to market.

Entities like traditional ad agencies and large brands spend tremendous sums focus grouping ideas and concepts in a vacuum to share data with stakeholders and get buy-in to move forward in the real world.  It’s the way things have been done for ages.  Now you can do better.

There are plenty of ways for getting more accurate data than that which can be acquired in controlled settings.  This used to be cost-prohibitive and testing in a laboratory was easier.  Now the two have flipped.

In a world where you are able to easily connect with end users, you can directly communicate with them and learn just what they want instead of working in artificial settings to deliver what you think they might want.  The advantages to this are numerous:

Positions you as a favored option

Direct to consumer is a huge trend, and connecting directly with fans for new product ideas shows that your company deeply embraces this philosophy.  It also shows you actually care about their input and positions you as the lesser evil, making you a better choice than your competitors.

PR value, links, attention

At the end of my post on objective vs. subjective, I touched on the idea of sharing data gathered from your audience.  If you’ve built a niche-specific audience carefully over time, the data provided may prove interesting enough to be re-blogged, get links, shares in the social web and perhaps even find its way into mainstream media.  Good ideas and experiments attract attention.

Cheaper than laboratory settings

It used to be cost-prohibitive, perhaps impossible to connect with end users at scale.  Now it’s simple, and paying expensive research firms to test ideas in a vacuum is both more expensive and less authentic.

Strong community-building strategy

If you connect users not just to your products and ideas in a two way street, but in a multi-directional format you will forge real connections, which inevitably inspires more growth.

Feedback provides a stream of creative ideas

When you’ve build a platform to test ideas and products with users and provide the ability to share feedback instantly you’ll open the faucet of creative ideas.


Certainly don’t ignore bringing good internal ideas to market, but it is starting to make little sense to spend arduous hours and large sums to test ideas in lab settings when you can effectively do it yourself in the wild.  This isn’t an entirely new idea, and some savvy companies have been embracing this philosophy for years.

What few have embraced is a total yielding of product, marketing and brand to the web and the community.  Inevitably new companies will spring up designed for this, and they will slowly leech market share from the bigger players, forcing them to also listen to their communities.  Large consumer brands of today weren’t designed to take advantage of this.

Designing a company specifically to cater to passionate audiences and letting them dictate the future is an exciting prospect.  If you were 100% dedicated to pleasing them and continually delivered what they wanted, you would in time rally a huge group of passionate users behind you.   Being a part of shaping the future of products people are truly interested in would prove an irresistible option for consumers.