Out Of Focus?
March 8, 2016
We don't see things the way they are. We see them the way we are. Nowhere is this more costly than in radio programming stratagem where we assume listener beliefs and values often heard through "our Listeners think_____." In reality, you may be right, but if you're wrong...
Over the past year, I conducted 17 focus groups from New England to the Rockies. If you've never commissioned a focus group, you can't imagine the depth and breadth of listeners' observations, emotional investment and attachment. These groups, averaging 25 well-screened target listeners, held in an informal setting, can mean the difference between success and failure.
Listeners are inherently fickle ... they drift in and out like the tides, not because they're maliciously disloyal but because they're human; leading busy lives where our formats and personalities matter to them ... just not as much as we want to believe. The sociologisms of a market are fascinating; no two are alike. There is no universal pattern from one market to the next. What works in Denver may be anathematic in Tampa. While it's true enough to say format principles don't change with region or with the passage of time, content and perceptions most certainly do.
Focus Groups and Their Outcomes
Over the past year we've witnessed minor tremblers that could become earthquakes if ignored or misunderstood. Some examples...
- If your brand is not on a pre-set, you can't win. People say they don't turn dials anymore.
- Morning shows are penalized for talking to each other and for talking too long.
- Commercials are not evil (in fact they expect and actually like many), but there is a limit.
- Asked if when talent makes a general reference to something "coming up" they pay little attention. Given a specific window of time (at 7:30 we'll put Tool tickets up for grabs), they respond and re-join if their schedule allows. PPM underscores this reality.
- While Focus Groups aren't music tests or analysis, listeners will be very candid about their tastes and preferences. They also know what they don't like. Of course each Focus Group is conducted at the behest of a specific station and format, so as P-1 listeners they have a predisposition about the music or content on their favorite brand.
- Important to remember: we hear it all the time in these sessions. Many respondents don't play contests (usually 50% of the room), however non-players enthusiastically report playing vicariously; playing along with your active listener-participants.
Never view Focus Groups as strategic Perceptual Studies. Limited data-points and smaller groups simply can't be modeled to reflect the arcane nature of a market or format. But when used as a fast snapshot of your heaviest listeners, these sessions can give you a tremendous competitive advantage; not simply "doing things right" but doing the right things ... better nouveau than never.