Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Best Focus Group Insight, Ever

We’ve all done endless focus groups.  Occasionally, there is a good nugget of information, but mostly, everyone complains that they are tedious.  Back in the 1970’s, I did a series of focus groups that provided a perfect insight into branding – long before the term branding came into common use.

I worked at Kenyon & Eckhardt.  K&E was a big Ford agency, handling Lincoln-Mercury and other Ford brands  The OEM for all Ford radios was Philco. Philco was a pioneering electronics company, making television, radio, refrigerators and other home appliances, as well as major industrial and military goods. But, except for sales in Ford automobiles, the brand hadn’t done well for many years.  Ford was trying to decide what to do with the brand when they came to K&E for help.  K&E and Ford put together a task force of its smartest executives.  Among the things which we did were to conduct focus groups all across the country.  The purpose of these groups was to gain insights into how consumers felt about the brand in various markets. The client joined us on our trip.  The task force included the possible new president of Philco, one or two other Philco executives and a very senior executive of Ford. 

Everyone who has sat through endless focus groups knows that occasionally something new or really insightful is said, but after a while, they can become redundant and, actually, boring.

We were in Fort Wayne, Indiana and a lady in the group said this gem, “If I buy a Zenith or an RCA and the product is bad, I got a lemon.  But if I buy a Philco or a Sylvania and the product is bad, the company sucks.”  The statement sent shivers through the group of executives sitting behind the mirror.  It was the most articulate comment about branding that any of us had ever heard.

At a quick dinner between groups, we were discussing the previous group.  I brought up the comment the woman had made and told everyone that it was an amazing observation about the nature of the Philco brand.  One of the Ford executives looked up and said the he was blown away by the remark and that, in fact, that he believed that the woman was right and the brand was dead unless Ford invested a fortune in both improving quality and in advertising and marketing.  We all agreed that they could not spend enough money to solve the perceptual problem which hung over the brand like a bleak cloud.  

The senior executive from Ford turned out to be its future president, Lee Iacocca.  We all agreed to cancel the remaining focus groups because there was no need to go further.  The woman who made the statement about the company, will never know what she said or did.

(Ford put the brand up for sale and a few months later it was sold to GTE, who then resold it.  To make a long story short, The Philco name disappeared after it was sold to Phillips.  Phillips, one of the world’s largest electronics companies, had been precluded from selling its products in the United States because of the closeness of the Philco and Phillips names. You know the rest.)

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of the expression, "Nothing kills a bad product better than good advertising." Good move.


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