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Damn the Focus Groups (Except This One)

  |  December 27, 2005   |  Comments

Just this once -- a focus group of one to shed some light on where we're going in 2006.

In my real job, I help marketers make better, more informed decisions through the focused analysis and interpretation of consumer-generated media (CGM). Needless to say, we crunch through tons of data, including an index of over 20 million blogs, thousands of message boards, and every imaginable venue of consumer expression.

Despite my disciplined -- dare I say righteous -- adherence to high-volume CGM analysis and "advanced text-mining of unstructured data," I still savor an occasional, old-fashioned focus group. As I learned so well at Procter & Gamble, a place where consumer understanding borders on the compulsive, focus groups are invaluable, first-stage windows into unmet consumer needs, emotional and rational purchase drivers, and key demographic or psychographic insights.

So, I thought I'd wrap up the year with a very simple focus group, centered on me. Oh, I can already hear the predictable chorus of critical knee-jerk push back: "Pete Blackshaw is not 'typical' or 'representative,' and his experience can hardly be projected to a broader population." Probably true, but let's make an exception and give it a go! To add extra texture and authenticity to the exercise, I've included a handful of supplemental audio clips.

Key Personal Insights From 2005

  • We're buying much more online. Online purchases ramped up in 2005 in ways my wife Erika and I would never have predicted. Nearly 70 percent of what we purchase for our new twins is purchased online. The convenience factor is just amazing. Time has become an absolutely precious asset. Though far less impressed with the major brand parenting sites, we've found tremendous value in high-information, high-convenience sites such as Baby Center and Babies "R" Us. We also have an almost irrational bias toward sellers that offer free shipping (focus group comments).

  • Marketing still annoys, even the B2B stuff. Because I'm a marketer, I must keep an open mind toward new advertising models. My consumer side, however, remained frustrated, annoyed, and a wee bit distrustful of advertising throughout 2005. Product placement (define) felt as if it lacked any measure of self-discipline or restraint, and I still want to give a piece of my mind to the "genius" who introduced TV ads to movie theaters Even in a business-to business (B2B) context, I feel overwhelmed by almost excessive sponsorship and product placement at events, where it becomes difficult to distinguish between transparent truth and free handout collateral. B2B marketers know no shame in email marketing, and my phone has become a "no pick up" zone lest a sales person break through.

  • There's much more TiVo, but without TiVo. I truly am time-shifting, big time! I owe TiVo thanks and gratitude for early trial, as far back as 2002, but now I'm hooked on a non-TiVo DRV format through Time Warner Cable. It's become addictive! We skip the ads and, despite some market research suggesting otherwise, have no idea what the ads are about when advancing at hyperspeed.

  • Demand for on demand is rising. In 2005, I took a massive leap into on- demand content. Two key factors influenced that shift. The first was Time Warner Cable introduced a diverse lineup of on-demand content, including how-to shows, documentaries, and regular movies. The second was my October purchase of a video iPod, which introduced the highly sticky concept of purchasing TV shows to watch on handheld devices. I download all manner of video content, and, in a weird way, it actually increases the number of hours I watch TV, as I take full advantage of the device during idle moments at the airport, on the plane, and during breaks at work. I'm also really into retro programming, such as "Dragnet" and (embarrassing to admit) "Adam-12." As for pricing, a 45-minute show $2 feels cheap compared to a two-minute song for $1, so no complaints on that front (focus group comments).

  • Blogging goes personal. Truth be told, my initial dive into the blogosphere was strictly business. After all, I'm in the blog analytics business, and I've felt this nagging, almost-competitive desire to keep up with the thought leadership, experience, and expertise of über bloggers like Steve Rubel. But this year in particular, I personally connected to blogging in ways I never imagined. They included a campaign to save a neighborhood pool, local events like a dog parade, and, most importantly, celebrating the birth of our precious twins. Through such endeavors, I've been far more consumed with making meaningful connections or capturing an experience among familiars than with counting links or site traffic (focus group comments).

  • Blogger boy meets multimedia (CGM2). This year I evolved into a bit of a multimedia freak, thanks to add-water-and-stir publishing tools such as iMovie and the video feature of my digital camera. My initiation into parenthood only intensified the trend. I've uploaded dozens of small movies and clips to my various blogs, and I now download all my home movie creations to my video iPod for sharing everywhere I go. Interestingly, I've also found myself downloading a greater diversity of self-published video content from the Web for view on my video iPod focus group comments).

  • The home phone enters extinction. The local phone company got the boot in place of a low-cost DSL that bolts on to my cable and broadband bill. Still, we ignore more calls to home and rely primarily on our mobiles. Meanwhile, I'm now infatuated with Google Talk and have almost overcome my Luddite shortcomings in conquering Skype (focus group comments).

Conclusions

This author is just a small window into the future, but there's a good chance I may be only 20 minutes ahead of everyone else. The media and marketing landscape is moving so darn fast that owe ourselves some level introspection and reflection on our own daily behavior to inform marketing assumptions for the future.

Keep looking in the mirror -- not mine, but yours! Doing so could be your best competitive advantage as we greet 2006.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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