When people gather there are always predictable dynamics. In the group there will be at least one leader, and perhaps two who will fight for the alpha position. There will be one or two who are timid, who sit on the perimeter and seldom speak. The rest will be in the middle, waiting for something to happen, or waiting to go home, whichever comes first.
The middle group is the majority. If they find an accommodating circle to talk to or hang with, then they are comfortable and the conversation is good. If they find an alpha leader who entertains, engages or attracts, then they are comfortable with that, too.
If they encounter opposition, tension, or the risk of embarrassment, then those in the group grow uncomfortable and they withdraw, speak tentatively and wait for the spirit of accommodation and comfort to reappear.
This is the reason focus groups are a poor substitute for making decisions. Focus groups are good for providing insight into people’s experiences, and the way they think and prioritize, but these are insights that merely inform a decision. The group cannot provide the decision itself.
Too many times marketers observe a focus group and latch onto the opinions of the majority as the conclusive take-away. They think an particular idea, ad concept or offer must be the best option because most in the focus group said they liked it best. Too often however, the majority option is not the best, it is the safest. Group-think coalesces around the ideas that make the group feel most comfortable.
In the end the best marketing decisions are informed by research, but they are made from the gut. The most successful marketers never allow research, qualitative or quantitative, to make decisions for them.
Research told the legendary Steve Jobs “Apple” was a lousy name for a computer company. That about sums it up.