That’s a quote from Vittorio Alfieri, an Italian dramatist considered the founder of “Italian tragedy”. OK, I had not heard of him either, until I saw the quote and looked him up on Wikipedia.

Regardless, this quote reminded me that inspiration may be an important part of marketing and entrepreneurship, but no idea is so great that it cannot be verified or tested. Maybe the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs can make is to love their ideas too much. In fact, loving the idea or thought too much is exactly the wrong orientation since it is not about what the entrepreneur thinks or loves. It is what the customer thinks or believes. Nothing else matters.

Entrepreneurs need to divorce themselves from the emotion of the first idea and become more deliberate and analytical. At this stage, concept testing is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe the best concept test can be done with focus groups.

The purpose of a focus group is to help find answers to difficult questions. A consumer research technique that uses open-ended questions, focus groups can quickly discern key issues and determine why the issues are important. Focus groups are moderator-led discussions of six to ten people randomly selected from a sample list comprised of participants in your target market.

An independent, third party moderator who is trained at managing the complex interpersonal dynamics of a group discussion best conducts “true” focus groups. The goal of a focus group is to smoke out hidden issues, test ideas, and seek feedback from the participants on topics such advertising, new products, or customer needs. The group discussion environment can be a very powerful tool for determining how people feel about the topic.

The client who sponsors the focus group predetermines the objectives of the session, but the format is flexible enough to accommodate the serendipity of qualitative research. You never know exactly what you will learn in a focus group. Most moderators prefer to follow a discussion outline, but they let the discussion lead the way.

A focus group that is poorly or unprofessionally moderated is a waste of time. Generally speaking, focus groups are best left to the professionals. Often small firms will attempt to moderate focus groups by themselves; this is often a poor choice since the entrepreneurs are inherently biased (or, call it passionate) about their businesses and will only hear what they want to hear.

First thoughts should be tested since they are not always the best.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2007 All rights reserved.

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