A recent newsletter posting in Planet Money caught our attention for its mention of examples when focus group findings flop. The example used in the article was the McDonald’s roll out of the Arch Deluxe burger back in the mid-nineties. On the face of it, McDonald’s took all the right steps before doing a very expensive, nation-wide release of the Arch Deluxe burger. Before the roll out of the new menu item the company conducted focus groups to get feedback on its new product offering. The results from the focus groups looked promising: the respondents loved the new product.
Armed with successful focus-group feedback, the company watched in dismay as the Arch Deluxe flopped. It failed to bring new customers into stores. Customers mostly ignored the new burger and opted for more familiar menu items instead. So what happened?
The long and short of it is the wrong types of people were recruited to participate in the focus groups. We don’t know for sure, but it seems that whoever designed the study and signed off on the recruiting strategy didn’t pay attention to demographic or psychographic details of the study.
In our last few blog posts we discussed when it’s appropriate to recruit existing customers, and when you should recruit external participants. It appears that the people who participated in the McDonald’s focus groups were existing customers and burger lovers and jumped on the chance to get to sample new flavors. This defeated the purpose of testing as to whether this new burger would attract new customers to McDonald’s. While the study participants clearly thought the Arch Deluxe tasted great, it doesn’t seem that the question was asked if they’d choose the Arch Deluxe over existing menu items.
There are plenty of other examples of focus group results failing to translate in the ‘real’ world. This isn’t the fault of focus groups or qualitative studies! The fault lies in how the study was designed, and more importantly, not giving careful consideration to qualifying and disqualifying attributes. Many of these pitfalls can be avoided with a well thought out screening guide. Recruiters use such guides to determine who does and does not qualify to participate in a study.
The outcome of any qualitative study is dependent on the quality of study participants. Professional recruiting agencies have years of experience with recruiting and can provide guidance on finding suitable candidates for your qualitative research.