Monday, November 13, 2006

Focus groups

We were at the outlet mall on Saturday and walked by a store called the Dress Barn. Even if I wasn't a marketing professional, I would think I'd have enough common sense not to call a store "The Dress Barn." Doesn't it just scream at you that you are a cow if you shop there?

Yet people shop there.

I wonder if the store name was the product of a focus group. If you aren't familar with focus groups, they are a non-scientific market research tool where you get about 8 to ten strangers from various demographic groups to sit in a room and verbally take a dump on a product name, package design or slogan. They do this while the business owner and his marketing people sit in another room watching through a two-way mirror. The focus group is led by a facilitator who tries to keep the room full of people focused on bashing the crap out of the thing being tested. They do this by offering the focus group members cookies and M&Ms at crucial moments.

Focus groups usually start out with no one talking. Then the facilitator godes one of the focus group members to take a shot at the product name or packaging. The facilitator then shoves a plate of cookies at the focus group member who started the criticism fest going. The rest of the focus group members then jump in and begin clubbing the product name or packaging design like a bunch of Canadians hot on the trail of a baby seal.

If you are the marketing person who came up with the product name, package design or slogan, a focus group is a painful and degrading process. If you are the business owner, it is an opportunity to go with your gut feeling and toss out the ad agency or marketing person's ideas and go with the name for your store or product your Aunt Bertha suggested at the dinner table on Sunday.

I'm pretty sure this is how the Dress Barn got its name.
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