Why polls and focus groups
may be the best way ever invented
to spring to the worst conclusions
about what your prospect wants …
And the ONLY way to get the answers
that will actually rocket your response.
You’ve just helped me a great deal. You couldn’t have known you were helping me, but you did anyway and I’m grateful.
Over the past year or so, nine or ten of the more than 600 articles in our archives have addressed this economic crisis – a situation that was about to affect and still is impacting your ability to succeed.
At first, I simply offered advice to help you prepare your business and your family for the great economic crisis I saw brewing. Later, hoping that learning what caused this crisis might help us avoid repeating it, I tracked the blunders that put our nation and our world in this precarious situation.
That meant each of these articles had plenty of political content. I spared nobody in Washington; laying the blame for our current economic crisis squarely at the feet of villains in both parties.
I must admit it: Creating these articles was a refreshing challenge for me. The last time I’d written “political” copy was in Ronald Reagan’s Santa Barbara hotel suite as the two of us cobbled together a half-dozen TV commercials in ‘way back 1978 – more than three decades ago.
Writing those posts was also cathartic for me, personally; an opportunity to vent my own frustration and disappointment with how our government created this crisis and is now intensifying it by abandoning the very principles that made this country the richest on Earth.
I took both parties to task; showing how, under the false banner of compassion for “the poor” and “fair housing” – Republicans and Democrats alike created the catastrophe that has now deprived more than 17 million Americans of their paychecks.
And of course, I pointed out how, by continuing Bush’s failed economic policies, the Obama administration’s corporate bail-outs and private hand-outs can only deprive millions more of their ability to earn a living.
Plus, I also had the opportunity to defend things I love dearly – the principles at the heart of entrepreneurship, free enterprise and our capitalist system.
I extolled the virtues of personal liberty and self-determination … the importance of allowing businesses and citizens to reap the rewards of their judicious actions and suffer the consequences of their foolish or greedy ones … and, of course, the right to own what you produce.
And since this is, first and foremost, a blog about copywriting and marketing, I also used each article as a kind of object lesson; to demonstrate how you can use words and word pictures, derision of a “common enemy,” common-sense rhetoric and the moral high ground to activate powerful resident emotions – and by doing so, to electrify and fully engage your target market.
As I suspected, the vast majority of our readers responded positively to these articles. That’s to be expected on a blog about entrepreneurship and marketing, read by thousands who have taken responsibility for their own success rather to trust politicians to provide for them.
And also as I expected, a minority – bless their liberal hearts – disagreed vociferously … attacked Bush’s idiotic economic policies then defended Obama for continuing them … derided free enterprise and capitalism without showing how any alternative has ever freed the masses from poverty … and more than a few attacked my intelligence, my motivation, my integrity and even my humanity.
I gleefully left every single one of these posts online for everyone to see (including the most hurtful ones that accused me of being a Republican) believing that each one would elicit three, five, ten or more posts from others who disagreed with them.
And sure enough; each one of these articles attracted ten to twenty times more page views, blog comments and incoming links than any article on copywriting or marketing we’ve ever published.
“Hmmm …” says I.
“There seems to be a market
for this kind of thing!”
So last November, I started thinking about creating a “political” website where folks could learn about and debate the issues of the day.
I recognized, of course, that the ultimate success of the site would be largely determined by the number of visitors who bookmarked the site, returned daily and actually got engaged in the conversation.
But what should the site look like? What should it offer visitors? How should it sound?
Now, I could have done a poll or focus group and simply asked you what kind of current events messaging would get you most involved.
But I didn’t. First, because you were already telling me – loud and clear – in your responses to each one of my political articles.
And second, because, frankly, you wouldn’t have told me the truth.
Please don’t take offense. I’m not calling anyone a liar, here. It’s just that if my 40 years in this biz have taught me anything, it’s that polls and focus groups are definitely NOT all they’re cracked up to be.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that polls and focus groups are hands-down the best way to spring to the worst marketing assumptions ever devised by man.
“But … but … my college professor told me that customer polls and focus groups – are absolutely essential! This best-selling marketing book I just read says you MUST ask your prospects what they want before you write sales copy.”
OK – it’s rant time …
Sorry – but your marketing professor and the guy who wrote that book are both morons.
After all: Why would any marketer capable of earning millions settle for a lousy $50k a year for teaching – or if he’s lucky, six figures for writing a book?
The simple truth is, to make a buck, colleges, professors and best-selling authors desperately need you to believe that marketing is like any other business skill – that it can be reduced to a formula or a series of numbers on a spreadsheet.
More than that: These professors and authors – and scores of CEOs and marketing VPs I could name – have need to convince themselves that there’s a formulaic way to determine what people truly want and what they’ll pay for.
Because despite their sheepskins from famous universities and vaunted titles, they know deep down inside that they personally have no clue. They couldn’t know – because they lack the three essential gifts that great marketers share:
- The common touch: A deep understanding of human nature and the sensitivity required to anticipate or at least to sense people’s fears, frustrations and desires …
- Creativity: The capacity to solve problems and meet challenges by bringing previously unrelated ideas together in new ways and …
- Horse sense: A healthy helping of the old-fashioned brand of common-sense required to make prudent marketing decisions and avoid springing to the wrong conclusions.
And so, being insensitive to others’ feelings, unable to entertain two seemingly conflicting thoughts at the same time and woefully short-changed in the common-sense department …
And also being unwilling to invest the effort and time required to develop these qualities; these folks have no choice but to look for artificial ways to conduct their market research.
Why polls and focus groups fail
Please don’t get me wrong, here. It’s not that polls and focus groups have zero value – it’s just that almost nobody uses them correctly and even fewer have any idea how to interpret the answers they get.
Brian Kurtz – Boardroom’s marketing VP and Target Marketing’s “Man of the Year” for 2008 and I’m proud to say, a cherished friend of mine – is the past master of using polls to determine which product ideas are likely to sell better than others.
Sadly though, nearly every other marketer I’ve ever worked with has done it all wrong – and wound up with conclusions that have invariably led them down very wrong; very costly paths.
- The environment is all wrong: Participants view polls and focus groups in the same way they view tests. They want to get the right answer – the answer they think the pollster is looking for – NOT to reveal how they truly feel.
Plus, in focus groups where they’re face to face with other subjects and their questioners, they want to win the approval of the entire group or, if they have a contrarian streak, to buck the crowd.
Either way, you wind up with data that in no way reflects what your subjects would really do – how they’d respond to your product, promotion or offer – when they’re alone at home with nobody watching them.
- There’s a desire deficit: Not only do polls and focus groups place subjects in an environment in which they are incentivized to give inaccurate answers, they completely miss a critical point: Desire for nearly all products is created by sales copy!
The headline and deck grab the prospect’s attention … the opening copy engages him … the body copy credibly presents product benefits … the offer dimensionalizes the value and minimizes the price … and the closing copy moves him to action.
Asking “Would you buy this” in an artificial environment and without doing these things virtually guarantees you’ll get the wrong answer.
- Respondents have no skin in the game: No opinion is worth a hill of beans unless it cost the respondent something to state it. The best validation of any opinion is that it comes with a check attached to it.
Second best? When the subject paid a substantial price in terms of time or effort – as in the hundreds of well-written responses on our blog.
BOTTOM LINE: Waiting for poll or focus group data before you create your promotion can be a terrible waste of time.
Especially these days, when you can post a sales page and send a blizzard of e-mails for free every day of the week, and fine-tune your sales message as you analyze your response on the fly.
So thank you for your participation …
Each week, I get a passel of e-mails from marketers wanting to know how I do my market research. How do I discover what my prospects want? How do I select the proper tone for my sales copy?
For the answer, just click the following links.
Our Most Popular – A Conspiracy of Imbeciles
Read each article and the responses that follow. Observe how many of our readers seem to have invested HOURS of time to craft their responses – major skin in the game!
Note also how the tone of my posts differ; strident in the main article to create controversy and response, then much more accessible and friendly in the blog portion.
Notice also how I varied my approach in the blog that follows each article so that I could gauge the relative response to the tone and content of each post. And notice which of my trial-and-error posts caused a surge of new posts and which ones were totally ignored.
Do you think you could do something like this for products and sales copy you’re working on? Even if you don’t have your own blog – is there a way you could use other people’s blogs to get this kind of valuable feedback?
And wouldn’t that kind of feedback be far superior to what you might get otherwise?
Oh – and one more thing: Please scroll down and tell me what conclusions YOU draw from this exercise: What do YOU think our new political blog should look like … sound like … and what it should do for visitors?
Should be fun – and highly instructive!
Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Publisher & Editor
THE TOTAL PACKAGE
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