Friday, January 23, 2009

Focus people, focus!

Now here’s Charles with the lesson of the day.

Debbie asks, “How is a focus group different than a crit group? Except perhaps that the product is already bound for commercial perusal or viewing? How different is a focus group from the MFA writers' programs, I wonder? Maybe some of you can help me understand this process.”

Indeed I can!

Crit groups, writing groups and other support networks for writers provide a place to safely share works in progress and hear helpful, constructive criticism from friends or professors who want to assist the writer in making the most of their talents. Sometimes those observations can be blunt and there’s always a few people who join just for the privilege to rip apart someone else’s efforts, but in general these groups help nurture and develop a writer’s talents.

Focus groups are a lot less friendly. And that’s their job.

A good focus group has a good cross section of the target demographic. Sometimes it’s specific—homeowners who make 100K+ a year, women with advanced degrees who work at home, college students who went to private high schools—sometimes it’s general—males 18-35, married home owners, people who don’t own cell phones. You get a group of them in the room (usually by paying them $50 an hour), and show them the ad campaign without explaining the ideas/strategy behind it. Usually you show 2 or 3 campaigns since you’ve got them there already and that will give you a broader range of feedback to work with. These folks should not be in advertising, should not be connected to the company's whose ads they are reviewing (no telecom people in telecom focus groups), and they should not be related in any way to the ad agency or its people. The person running the focus group needs to present the information as if they were just brought in to run this show and don’t know a thing about what’s going on. The folks who made the ads, by the way, are gathered in the other conference room, watching the focus group on closed circuit TVs. And yes, the participants know they are being filmed. But these people don’t know who wrote the ad and have nothing invested in it. And are brutally honest.

The presenter runs through the campaigns and asks lots of questions, starting with the obvious—did you like it?—down to the unusual—if this ad was an animal, what would it be? Ok, that’s a bit extreme, but when if you’re in a focus group and somebody’s asking you about the creative, it can all seem crazy. Typically the comments start off all positive, then they swing wildly so it’s all negative, eventually settling somewhere in the middle. And more times than not, focus groups confirm what you already know, which is why clients aren’t crazy about paying for them. However, it’s the small things that you learn from them that enable you to fine-tune the campaign to make it more effective.

One reason why a focus group can’t/won’t/probably wouldn’t work with a book is that it’s too long. How many average readers would willingly read a whole book that was just handed to them—a commitment of a lot of time for very little/no reward?

So will I do it with my book? Maybe, but I gotta finish the damn thing first.

No comments: