Back in the Old Days (by which I mean the 1980’s and mid-1990’s), I was involved in a number of high-tech marketing efforts, both as an ad/marketing agency exec and as a client of such services. Focus groups were immensely valuable. I remember one incident in particular in which we focus grouped a new product idea for a semiconductor equipment manufacturer and recommended he not build that tool. We saved him potentially $17 million and probably his company.
I was reminded of that success when my good friend and former business partner Chipp Walters started and ended a thread on LinkedIn in which he began by looking for beta testers for a new product he was building and ended by abandoning his effort because someone pointed out a great new technology that did everything he was planning for his product to do.
The thread is a study in condensed and fast-paced market testing.
At the outset, Chipp, who had founded the LinkedIn group and who was a long-time creator and fan of video scribing, had decided to create a tool that would make it easier for designers and non-designers alike to create the movies that showed hands writing on a whiteboard with a voice-over narration. This was an exciting new approach to information presentation, one he had used to great effect on projects he and I worked on together and many others.
He described his plans briefly and asked the group members to raise their hands if they wanted to beta test his tool. At first, he got a lot of hands being raised and not much feedback.
Then one day, one of the group’s members tossed into his reply what was almost an after-thought: “Also, Sparkol just released an app. Go take a look and write up a review.”
Chipp agreed to check it out and, within a few days, had posted a brief pros-and-cons overview of the new product. Not too long after that, one of the co-founders of Sparkol — who was obviously watching the forum or monitoring the Web for mentions of his company — chimed in and responded in detail to Chipp’s feedback.
A short time later, Chipp announced, “[T]here’s no longer a beta anything as I’ve cancelled plans to build a scribing product. Sparkol fits the bill quite nicely. If you haven’t tried it, you should. They have done an excellent job of thinking through the workflow and the results are terrific.”
Now Chipp can focus his efforts on creating other great tools (he’s done some doozies over the years) and he has access to a tool that does what he wants as well as the gratitude and support of one of the founders of that tool’s developer.
So that’s how you do focus group testing these days!