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Updating Mad Men: The Focus Group

This week Mad Men featured a staple of the media world: the focus group. Whether it's a telephone survey, like the call I received from Nielsen this weekend, or grabbing a group of people off the street, the focus group is a key part of any media outreach campaign. Before understanding the messaging and positioning that world work for the whole, you must first undersand what will work for a small, carefully selected group.

The women of the Mad Men focus group

But today the focus group is open to everyone with a search window. You can open up Twitter and be greeted by a flood of information or check out the LinkedIn groups to find out what business folks are truly feeling. You can even enter traditional forums and hear the complaints and concerns of thousands of people. However, like the PhD who is running the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce focus groups, people need a guide to understand what they're reading. It's very easy to get lost in the "Rats Nest" of social media.

In fact, sometimes you need to entirely dismiss what you're reading or, in other cases, provide additional emphasis. I was quoted in Mashable saying that the social media realm offers imperfect data. The point is, just a few numbers will never tell you enough of a story, you need to understand the context of the person conveying the information, online and off.

Coming back to focus groups for a moment, how they are compiled affects the information you glean from them. In Mad Men the group was made up of young, unmarried women. In fact, just before grabbing the last unmarried secretary an older secretary commented that she wasn't wanted in the room because she was, in fact, older and married.

The results of the session were that women want to be beautiful to attract a man, according to the doctor who ran it, but it could have turned out differently with the older women in the mix. Of course, this is where Pond's finds itself today, with an older, more mature demographic. The eventual conclusion that women are simply looking to be married and that's why they use beauty products was rejected by top Mad Man Don Draper, who noted that putting out a year's worth of messaging would change the conversation.

In the social media world, people put out information for a reason. When looking at social media for market intelligence you must ask yourself "why did this person say what they're saying." Otherwise you're only getting half a story. Social search tools can help you find information and many social CRM tools exist to help you get graphs, charts and numbers to show certain trends, but there is so much more available within the social stream.

Over here at Fresh Ground we have started working with customers on a social intelligence service. That is, we look at interesting pieces of information, put them in context and then distribute that information to the appropriate internal audiences. This is how we help our clients dig up everything from sales leads to competitive intelligence.

So what would Pond's do differently today? Well, first they'd have a lot more information about their target demographic. Then they would use that information to understand the individuals who visit their site. If they wanted to try out new messages they'd probably do a bit of A/B testing on their site to see what works. They may also test certain messages in certain demographic areas, either through online advertising, carefully located display ads or buying air time in specific programs. They'd also dig into the social media intelligence to find out what people in their targeted demographics are discussing, then find ways into those conversations.

And hopefully, when they're done, no one ends up crying or throwing heavy objects at Don Draper.

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