Coming up with an idea for a new product or service can be exciting, especially if it’s different than the other options already on the market. On paper, your idea seems like it’s going to work—in theory, your customers should love this. But it’s a bad idea to rely on your instincts, especially when new technology in the realm of data analytics makes it possible to objectively test your insights. One of the best modern tools for testing your product and evaluating your audience is just a high-tech spin on a classic concept: the focus group. Focus groups are small, representative samples of the population gathered to evaluate a given product, service, tagline, or concept with a guided discussion and real-time feedback. So how can you utilize this strategy to make your products better and more polished before going to market? How Technology Is Helping Focus Groups Evolve Let’s take a look at some of the ways technology is allowing focus groups to evolve: Bigger target audiences. First, new technology can help you reach remote and previously unreachable parties, and manage far greater numbers of people. For example, a focus group by Target recently analyzed the insights of 16 million women to develop a better skin care product. You don’t need to target millions of people to get a reliable insight about your product, but a bigger audience is usually a more dependable one. Data collection and storage. You can also use technology to better capture your data as you gather it, and store it in a way that makes it searchable, or easier to browse. For example, IPIVS’s VALT technology gives you the ability to record videos of your focus group discussions, then categorize and search through your videos to find exactly what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it. Data analysis and visuals. We also have access to better data analytics and data visualization tools, which allow you to crunch numbers and come up with a high-level takeaway, presented in an intuitive format. Tools alone can’t analyze everything for you, but they can make your analysis much simpler and less technically complex. Why Focus Groups Matter Why are focus groups so important in the first place? Challenging your assumptions. First, focus groups are a fantastic way to challenge the assumptions you might have about your target audience. Audiences sometimes form opinions or behave in ways that strongly deviate from what the average person would expect; for example, thanks to the IKEA effect, consumers tend to enjoy items they’ve built themselves (at least to some degree) more than ones that are pre-fabricated. Focus groups give you a chance to challenge these assumptions. Analyzing qualitative and quantitative data. In a typical focus group, you’ll be collecting both quantitative data (like numerical measurements of a consumer’s preference) and qualitative data (like a monologue about why they feel that way). Quantitative and qualitative data sets have inherent advantages and disadvantages, but focus groups let you capitalize on both. Experimenting with new alternatives. Chances are, it isn’t one singular idea you’re trying to test in a live environment; you probably have several competing ideas or at least several variations of a single idea that you’d like to test against each other. Focus groups are the perfect opportunity to experiment with these concepts and use hard data to determine which will suit your needs more appropriately. Generating new ideas. Focus groups aren’t just for testing all the ideas you’ve already come up with; they’re also for helping you generate new ideas. Give your audience members the chance to present some ideas they have for how to make your product better, or even for a new product altogether. You might be surprised at what they generate. Harnessing the Power of the Modern Focus Group If you’re interested in using modern tech to host a focus group for your business, make sure you follow these tips for success: Know your goals going in. There are many good reasons to host a focus group, and you probably have some combination of multiple different motivations working in tandem. However, it’s a good idea to define and describe your goals before you get started. For example, are you hoping to determine the superior name option for your new product? Are you interested in generating new ideas you can use in the future? Cast wide, but dig deep. The more participants you have in your study, the more reliable the results will be. It’s also helpful to get representatives from many different demographics, increasing the diversity of your audience. Once assembled, make sure you ask more than surface-level questions; dig deep into people’s perspectives and motivations for best results. Avoid confirmation bias. Confirmation bias makes us unconsciously favor or seek information that agrees with our preexisting assumptions, and it’s something that needs to be compensated for. Try to ask more open-ended questions, like “how do you feel about this product?” instead of “do you like this product?” and have neutral third-party conduct the focus group when possible. Pay attention to outliers. Outliers are points of data in your data set that seem to deviate from the norm in some key way. When dealing with hundreds or thousands of pieces of information, it’s easy to discard these outliers as irrelevant. However, outliers can lend valuable insights to your investigation. Even if they can’t tell you how the average person feels about your product idea, they could see something that other people can’t, and give you a clue for how to improve in the future. Analyze and revisit. Be thorough in your analysis, but don’t think you’re done once you reach a conclusion. Consider running a second focus group, a smaller one, to test whether your conclusions are truly accurate. Focus groups aren’t a perfect strategy for every product or every business, but they can be extraordinarily powerful for gathering objective insights about your ideas. As an entrepreneur or innovator, it’s hard to be completely objective in your thinking, and it’s impossible to create any data-driven insights. When used as part of a suite of strategies for demographic research and data analytics, focus groups can be the ultimate compliment to your creativity.