Focus groups help companies better concentrate their efforts

Domino's Pizza long touted its fast delivery as a key differentiator from competitors.

Domino's Pizza long touted its fast delivery as a key differentiator from competitors. In an interview with Aarti Shah in this issue, CMO Russell Weiner explains how the chain drastically altered its messaging to reflect consumers' dissatisfaction with the quality of its pizza and the steps it has taken to heed those calls.

Numerous recent articles in outlets ranging from the New York Daily News to US News & World Report highlighted Domino's' consumer-prompted epiphany, with the former outlet reporting on March 2 that quarterly profits nearly doubled to $23.6 million.

Social media, no doubt, played a key role in this awakening, but that tried-and-true research tool - the focus group - is the real champion here. Want proof? Check out the company's recent TV spots showcasing numerous such gatherings.

"The pizza crust, to me, is like cardboard." "The sauce tastes like ketchup." Those would be stinging comments to read on a blog, but when you hear it coming out of a person's mouth, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, pun intended. This fact was underscored when I recently took part in a focus group.

The gathering was convened for a product in its concept stage. Ideas were presented, opinions were requested, even homework was assigned prior to the event.

The attending individuals had notable differences in occupation, areas of expertise, home environments, etc. When the meeting commenced, I thought I had a good read on who would speak up and who was just there to collect a paycheck. I'm pleased to say every single person was forthcoming.

Focus groups are expensive, especially when compared to digital options. However, I firmly believe that no company would be as moved by text on a screen as it would by someone looking their reps dead in the eye and telling them their product wasn't very good.

Participants become more than a username. I was asked a litany of questions prior to being accepted to the panel, but it made me feel as if my opinions were truly coveted. In turn, I took the process very seriously. No doubt, the company was counting on it.

This issue's Marketing and Digital analyses (p.14 and 18) discuss increased consumer interaction. And while social media certainly facilitates that, there's a reason Domino's gave customers an in-person forum to share views. Sure, someone could type "FAIL" to express discontent, but hearing the words "cardboard" and "ketchup" - and seeing the accompanying disappointment - prompted an established company's total about-face. That's a powerful tool.

Gideon Fidelzeid is the senior editor at PRWeek. He can be reached at gideon.fidelzeid@prweek.com.

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