It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. -Steve Jobs, Business Insider
In market research circles this comment comes up again and again. It is true. And it is not true.
The true part: people don’t know what they want until you show them. True. If I ask members to solve their biggest problem they can’t. They don’t know the answer. They are too close to the problem to solve it. They don’t have the resources to solve their own problem. The politics or the emotions are so overwhelming they can’t objectively see the answer. They get focused on what other people will think. If members knew the solution to their problem they would have solved it by now.
We can’t ask members to predict. Ask me what my social media habits will be 3 years from now, I have no idea. What will I want from my association? Probably more of what they already do. What will my job look like in a few years? I’m not sure so I’ll say it looks a lot like it does today. We can’t ask our members to predict, predicting is hard and most of us get it wrong.
The not true part of Steve Jobs’ quote, which is also unspoken: during member research member’s can’t tell you what they want therefore member research is not useful. Untrue. It is true that they can’t tell you what they want. They can’t tell you the solution to their problem. But they can articulate their problem. And this is the key! Most of us don’t accuracy, fully, currently know what our members’ problems are. We need to understand their problems. To understand their problems we need to be them, or observe them and when we can’t do either we need to ask. Only when we accurately understand their problems can we offer solutions. The solutions they need that they can’t provide themselves.
One last thing, I also don’t recommend focus groups for most associations. Unless there’s the budget to run many of them focus groups can be incredibly inaccurate. There is another method that is more contextual, accurate and cost effective.
h/t: Aldo Maragoni for a great Twitter conversation on this issue.