Careful with focus groups and market research!

Market research and all the science behind focused groups is valid when you are trying to edge the business a little further along, when you are trying to improve on an existing service or product, when all you are looking for is a few more percentage points in your market share. But when you need to re-invent the business, chase new markets or deal with significant disruption, market research just doesn’t cut it. it's a trap that should be avoided. 

The only way and best way to understand your customer problems as they quickly evolve at the speed of the market is by putting solutions in front of them and iterating.

The example I always use is maps. Travellers need maps to know how to get from A to B in a place they are not familiar with. Up until not long ago, most maps existed in printed form and over the years they improved with grids, better icons, fonts, patterns, etc. Focus groups were useful to gather feedback: show them a variety of map options see what they think about them. But while those companies that produced printed maps were busy trying to organise focused groups all over the world to figure out if customers wanted colour maps or black and white maps, Google launched google maps and started iterating on a product that at the beginning sounded like crazy talk. "Mapping the whole world? Impossible!". Google didn’t do market research to find out from focus groups how to improve printed maps…they just launched google maps and started iterating and solving customer problems. 

I know there is a place and time for everything, but be careful with market research, in today's day and age, at the speed things are moving, it's a waste of money. Invest it in prototypes and put them in front of your customers.

Gus Balbontin