Focus Groups: Yes!

Focus Groups: Yes!


Marketers are always talking about focus groups and how learning information from them is extremely valuable. Most business owners are rolling their eyes as they envision large conference rooms with two-way mirrors and product testing where the participants mostly just complain about the product and the business owners have to endure a torturous hour or so.

In today’s digital environment, and the age in which everyone is very vocal about their likes and dislikes it may seem like a focus group is unnecessary. The thing is, that’s not entirely true.

The part of the focus group that matters is the feedback you get from your prospective customer- in a third party environment. That’s not to say that the standard, old style two way mirror setting is the way to accomplish this. We’ve found that more casual, fun networking style events have a larger appeal and garner more interesting and ultimately helpful results.

For an example, read about a focus group event we hosted for one of our clients.


Regardless of the style of focus group you host the feedback is the most important. Many business owners have products that they love, and their family loves and they come to us stating that “everyone they have given it to loves it” Of course they do. When you are passionate about something you have created and you ask those close to you what they think of it, regardless of what they may actually think, they want to support you, so they tell you everything they like about it. Put simply, it’s a biased opinion, and no business owner will get an unbiased opinion from anyone they know personally, or otherwise, so long as they know you are the business owner.

Hiring a third party to host and discuss your product in an environment in which they feel safely protected from hurting the business owners’ feelings, however, changes the outcome quite a bit. Marketers use this feedback in a number of ways, including finding nuggets of truths from your potential customers about the advantages and disadvantages of your product, brand and message. Discovering that your new energy drink tastes terrible to your prospective audience, gives you the advantage to make changes to the formulation to improve the taste. Finding out that no one understands what your product does or how it works, gives you the opportunity to find clever ways to include that educational piece in your messaging. These are the things marketers need to know in order to help you sell your product to your target audience and that’s why we keep insisting that focus groups are something you need.

Mashups: The Good, the Bad & the Why

Mashups: The Good, the Bad & the Why

OCTOBER 12, 2018

Mashups. Take one thing and another thing, mash them together, and see how it turns out. Sometimes it turns up unexpected synergies that delight the senses. Other times, crimes against humanity ensue. Let’s discuss…

Musical Mashups are usually fun. Sometimes genius. And almost always, at least an “A for Effort.” Musical Mashup successes I’d like to highlight are courtesy of Danger Mouse (the man, not the animated mouse) and Girl Talk (also a man, actually). Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, seems to have a Magical Mouse Wand that he uses to grace musical projects far and wide. One of the more inspired of which is his production of The Grey Album. You take The Beatles’ White Album, slap it on top of Jay Z’s Black Album, and it shatters into genius. I bet you never thought you’d hear John Lennon singing back up to Jay Z. (Bet John Lennon didn’t see that coming either!) But “Oh Yeah…” now you can never un-hear it and that’s a wonderful thing. Awesome album. Give it a twirl.


Next up…Girl Talk! Mr. Gregg Gillis, aka DJ Girl Talk, must have a bunch of Mensa Squirrel Ninja’s scampering around in his brain. Gosh, I’d love to take a peek in there! How did he come up with these musical collisions?? Skipping willy-nilly across genres and decades, it all magically works. If you can’t burn a ton of calories on the treadmill listening to his album, Feed the Animals, then you might as well just take another nap. (But warning! If you’re used to listening to the “radio edit” version of these songs, keep a bar of soap nearby to wash out your ears.)

So, there you have it! Two fine examples of mashups gone right. Now…Q: Where do mashups go wrong?

A: In the cereal aisle of the grocery store. Why, why, WHY, would you make Chocolate Lucky Charms?!? Or Frosted Flake Lucky Charms?? Not good. Not good at all. These cereals are pushing the gastric envelope already with sugar crusted oat-shapes bouncing around a bevvy of pastel-hued marshmallows. So why is this happening?

I believe it’s happening because the cereal brands fear that their typical consumer has the attention span of a flea. This is generally true. (Could it be, perchance, from ingesting said pastel marshmallows? Hmmm?). Today’s children do seem to be inundated with such a barrage of constant audio and visual stimulation that it makes sense manufacturers might think this could affect their taste buds. I mean there’s even Swedish Fish Oreo cookies and gum that changes flavors two or three times as you chew it. (Forget George Orwell…Willy Wonka saw the future!)

But I think we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Being a loyal fan of the mighty Cheerio (toasty-oaty-goodness in a bowl), perhaps I’m out of touch with the cereal needs of today’s youth. But there’s something to be said about preserving the original. Most of the classic “sugar cereal” varieties have been around for decades with their original formula and branding. Well, except for the you’re-not-fooling-anybody switch from “Sugar Smacks” to “Honey Smacks.”

Anyway, just leave the cereal alone. Look what happened when Coke tried to be “New” and Pepsi tried to be “Clear.” It wasn’t good. (Fire up your Wikipedia, young ‘uns, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

So, Musical Mashups? Absolutely. Cereal Mashups? Please stop. We love you just the way you are. Were. Whatever.

Why Is This Donut Fresher Than All Other Donuts?

Why Is This Doghnut Fresher Than All Other Donuts?


Because it came from a kosher Dunkin Donuts. Kosher Dunkin Donuts? Who knew??

Skokie Illinois is home to a sizable Jewish population. At it’s peak in the mid-1960’s, 58% of Skokie’s residents were Jewish (thanks Wikipedia!). Skokie hosts a large number of synagogues and Jewish schools, with many neighborhoods in proximity for families to walk to services together. And so, perhaps not surprisingly (although I was still surprised), the Dunkin Donuts located at 3900 Dempster Street in Skokie keeps kosher. As such, they serve only vegetarian meat-substitute in their breakfast sandwiches, no pork or other meat items. And they have the…Freshest. Donuts. Ever. I’m not sure if there is any correlation between the kosher status and the freshness of the donuts. Perhaps the additional care and oversight of the menu items? Whatever the case, these donuts are so fresh, that they truly do not taste like the same thing you’ve had elsewhere. AND if you can get there in the morning before they sell out, they offer Apple Fritters. Not those trying-to-be-jelly-donuts-but-with-apple-pie-filling donuts. Real Apple Fritters. So! Drop what you’re doing & head to Skokie for a soft, fresh, perfect doughnut. You can finish reading this blog later.

Are you back?

The moral of my Donut Story is this… Even if your business or product has an attribute/component/aspect that you think is primarily appealing to a particular type of person, don’t let that narrow your customer base.  Expose and educate your potential audience to enlighten them as to why your way or your widget is worth trying!

In a former lifetime, I was part owner of a BBQ restaurant. We specialized in Soul Food. We branded it as Southern Comfort Food so as not to intimidate the white folks (fyi…I’m a white folk, so I can say that). Black people know that “Southern Comfort Food” is code for Soul Food, so there was no worry of losing that audience. And most black people and southern people would agree that this same traditional cuisine has a deep history of being prepared and enjoyed by both groups. But we wanted to introduce this food to the masses, confident that most everyone would enjoy it.

So, the point is, if you have a specialized product or service that you believe could/should be enjoyed by everyone, go for it! Find a way to enlighten and delight-en your potential customer base. They’ll thank you for it, become repeat customers, tell their friends and you will find that you can expand your reach without losing your core customers.

(Now I’m going to go grab another donut…)

The Key Communication Components for Product Marketing

The Key Communication Components for Product Marketing

Wow, that sounds like it’s going to be a marketing bible or something quite profound. But basically, this information is just…well…basic.

It doesn’t matter what product, service or business (for the sake of simplicity, we’ll use “product” in the rest of this article) you’re intending to market, you need to get clear on Four Key Components of your brand and its marketing.

But FIRST--before everything else--the long-term success of a product begins with its quality. Forget all the rest if you’re not starting with that. You need to be marketing something that someone out there needs, wants, aspires to or would like in their life; is better than other choices in some way; or is just plain new (that’s the most rare and precious).

This “good” product is then followed by determining HOW the product story is crafted, WHO is going to be most receptive to it, WHAT media you’ll use to get the story out and WHEN is the best time for that. WHERE refers to the geographic area you choose—which often drives what media you’ll use.

Let’s start with

  1. HOW to craft and tell the Product Story. What are the product attributes? Is the story compelling and memorable? Is it distinguishable from the competition?  Start to develop the product’s “Voice” (tone and language). Be discerning—no be ruthless here--as it’s the basis of everything to come. And last but not least, is it meaningful and relevant to potential customers? This takes you right into:


  1. WHO is the “Audience”. You need to determine the audience (ie potential customer) that is going to be most receptive to your product, and to the message you’re going to tell. What are the demographics: sex, age, religion, interests, etc? You start this by researching competitive products and their customers; by talking to potential customers to see how they react (Focus Groups are a good way to do that). All of this may (actually, will) lead to story and/or Voice adjustments.  Budget starts to come into play here, as the smaller your budget, the narrower your target audience base is going to have to be. Which flows directly into:


  1. WHAT Media you use. This refers to the choice of media you’ll use to tell the product story, to which audience and in which geographic area. What’s going to make more sense: social media, websites and online ads, print, billboards, mail, radio, tv, mass transit, etc etc. Budget comes heavily into play here.  What you’re looking for in media is the biggest bang for your buck, and managing Reach, Frequency and Impact within your target audience. And finally…


  1. WHEN to time the media placements: Is there a key time of year for the purchasing of your product? Is it connected to holiday or seasonal buying? Are there national or regional meetings/events/conventions where you will benefit from a presence? Which media perform better at different times of the year/month/week/day?

The Things People Say (Why Customer Listening is Critical)

The Things People Say (Why Customer Listening is Critical)

Last week we held a Focus Group Event.  If you’ve ever done or been in a focus group, you wouldn’t apply the word “event” to it right?  Focus groups are usually in a boring conference room, with boring food, and people sitting around a conference table.  Often a one-way mirror for observers.

Well, this one was certainly not that.  It was a terrific, fun event. No kidding. Now, I’m not going to go into details, because I think that would be giving away something pretty cool and unique we’ve discovered.  But I will show you some photos—of our guests actually enjoying an evening of socializing AND participating in focus groups.  If you want to know how we pulled that off, you’ll just have to contact us—sorry! Suffice it to say, we were really proud of it; our client was ecstatic and now he’s got some major fans.  That’s a big win, win, win!

So let’s talk about Focus Groups.  Or what I’d rather call it: Customer Listening.

Customer Listening is fascinating.  Enlightening. Oftentimes surprising.  And always absolutely critical.  That is if you want your product/service/marketing to be relevant and ring true to your actual customer; and if you want to find out whether or not your product/service/marketing is solid or needs some changes (that’s something you want, right?  Boy I hope so!).

Customer Listening can take several forms:

  1. Surveys
  2. Phone Interviews
  3. In-person interviews
  4. Focus groups

Whatever form it takes, your goal is to LEARN.  And you do that by ASKING and LISTENING.  When you’re with them in real time, you’ll want to listen carefully and probe—pull those emerging threads of insight that just might take you beyond your list of questions to some unexpected golden nugget.  I’ve actually heard taglines emerge…straight from the customer’s mouth.  What could be better—more real?

What questions?  It really depends on who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish, but here are just a few that are always insightful.

(NOTE: replace “we” with “company, service or product”):

  • How are we performing overall?
  • What makes us stand out from the competition—how are we different, what do we do really well?
  • Any special stories about working with us—ie tough problems solved?
  • What can we be doing better, add or change?
  • Would you recommend us? Why/why not?
  • If you could describe us in one short sentence, what would you say?
  • How did you find out about us?
  • If it’s a new company/product/service: How do you find out about others in the marketplace—where do you go for information, what steps do you take?
  • What key criteria do you use to select a company/service/product in this market?

Goodness, this barely scratches the surface.  It’s undeniable, we love Customer Listening, because the things people say are priceless. So if you want to know more (or you’re dying to find out about our super-duper cool Focus Group Event idea), just reach out.  We’d be happy to ask you questions and listen to you!

What Not To Do When You Start A Business

What Not To Do When You Start A Business

There are a million tips out there for starting your business. But there are a few things NOT to do until you spend some time doing some serious research.

Don’t write a business plan yet

Research your idea and if it already exists, who the competition is, and who the perceived competition is. What’s “perceived competition” you ask?  Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of believing they don’t have any competition in the market because no one else does EXACTLY what their idea does. But, the public doesn’t necessarily know or believe that. You need to research the companies who are doing something similar- even if you don’t think they are really competition, the public may not realize that.

Don’t name your business/ product yet

Research your concepts, and please please hire a professional designer and brand strategist to help you with this. You need to make sure no one else has that name, or similar concept- because I expect you want to avoid trademark infringement.  Plus, you need to know who your target audience is and how they will respond to your brand.

Don’t  start searching for funding yet

You need to have more than an idea. You need to have completed the research on your competition, market, target audience and overall idea before you even think about approaching someone and asking for funding. Serious investors are going to want to see a full business plan that is well written and well developed through research. Hire a professional capital generation firm to help you find qualified funders when you are ready.

Don’t rely on what your friends and family say

Listen, they are your friends and family, there are certain things that they will tell you and certain things they will not. Asking people in your inner most circle will not reveal how the general public and your target audience actually feel about your idea. Most people who know you will not share their full feelings- good or bad- with you as the idea originator. Instead, invest in a focus group. It will reveal a great deal about your idea and will ultimately lead you in the best direction possible for success.

So, get to work, you have a lot of homework to do! And, after you do all that- talk to a professional third party to do some additional research for you.  Being armed with the back up you need will make all the difference in your success.

4 Surprising Facts About Millennial Spending Habits

4 Surprising Facts About Millennial Spending Habits

You may ask, “What does this have to do with marketing?” well my friend, let me explain. Millennials are the hottest target audience in the market today. The majority of companies are targeting 18-30 year olds because they know that’s where they will get the most out of their branding and ROI’s. Millennials are constantly sharing and promoting products they love and voicing they’re opinions on products they don’t, so you can see how such an influential group of people can mean success for any business.

As a “selfish” and “entitled” Millennial though, I feel it is my duty to defend my own (hmmm maybe this what they were referring to as entitled?), especially when it comes to my spending habits, because c’mon, lets me realistic…they’re not that great. We often get a bad rap for not contributing to society: being unemployed, living with our parents, and putting off getting married or having kids. But with a collective $1 trillion in student debt and the constant rejection of employers, can you really blame us?

I recently stumbled upon a Business Insider article that summarized a report by Mizuho Securities surveying more than 1,500 millennials aged 18-34 on their spending habits, and was pleasantly surprised to find that millennial spending habits aren’t as bad as society makes them out to be. I guess there is more to us than meets the eye (and our wallets). Here are 4 [surprising] facts about millennial spending habits and my thoughts on them:

1. “Millennials do most of their shopping in physical stores. Sure, they are tech savvy and frequently shop online, but millennials haven't completely abandoned stores and shopping malls. They like to touch and feel products before they buy them, and still appreciate the experience of shopping in a store. In fact, millennials still complete 54% of shopping in physical stores, according to the report.”

 Yes. Yes. Yes. I am a first-hand account of this one, partly due to my slight shopping addiction, but nonetheless, factual.

2. “Millennials save more money than the national average. "Contrary to popular rhetoric regarding a highly challenged consumer who may be burdened with debt and living 'paycheck to paycheck,' our survey of millennials suggests the majority of the demographic (74% of total responses) saves money every month compared to 26% who do not," the report says.”

Listen, budgets are hard work. First of all, actually building a budget is a task in itself, but actually following through? Forget about it. But in all seriousness, saving is important. We know it’s annoying, but we also know its necessary. Even saving $20 a month, could be very beneficial in the long run! To my fellow millennials who don’t have a savings account: get on it!

3. “Millennials are planning to buy homes. They are delaying home-buying and marriage and kids, but they are planning to get to those life milestones eventually. When asked what they are saving for, millennials said (1) a house, (2) a car, and (3) retirement.”

Of course we want homes, what do you think we’re saving up for? Maybe we’re not looking to have the traditional “white picket fence” home, but we still want a place to call our own. As far as having kids, some of us want to wait because we want to be financially prepared for the expenses that come with raising a family (aka responsibility) OR some of us just simply don’t want kids. Is that such a crime? Plus, why change diapers when you can cuddle with a dog? Just saying. 

4. “Millennials aren't just relying on Uber and Lyft to get around. They are actually buying cars. Like with homeownership, many millennials have delayed purchasing cars. But car buying among this demographic is rapidly rising and will continue to grow, according to the report. About 64% of millennials plan to buy a car in the next two years, and most of those who don't plan to buy a car already own one, according to the data. Only 5% of respondents said car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft serve as a replacement for owning a car.”

I believe this 100%. Sure, Uber and Lyft are life-savers after a Saturday night out at the bar, but relying on a car-sharing service 24/7 can get a little stressful. As I mentioned before, we want something to call our own and having to depend on an Uber simply isn’t cutting it. I’m not saying we’re out purchasing Range Rovers and Mercedes Benz left and right (although it would be nice to be able to afford a Rover), but we are still financing cars and steadily growing that sales market. 

To end today’s article, or what appears to sound more like a rant, don’t underestimate Millennial spending habits. We work hard for what we want and no matter how many obstacles you throw at as (yes, this is directed to you baby boomers) we will continue to contribute our part to this world and grow any business who wishes to pursue us. We are loyal to the products/brands that we love, thus making our presence in the market very valuable!

What To Expect (And Not Expect) From Your Marketing Firm

What To Expect (And Not Expect) From Your Marketing Firm

Working with your marketing firm or ad agency should be a partnership.  A partnership that allows for open communication, integrity and respect.

You should expect this from your firm.  And they should be able to expect this from you.

When this kind of partnership exists you can expect the following:

  1. Expect them to want the best for your business.
  2. Expect them to give you their best.

In order to do that, they’ll expect you to give them the time, consideration and trust to do the job you hired them to do—this is why you chose them.

Expect to be frustrated at some time during the process.  Usually that happens early on, because a great deal of work is being done that you may not be aware of.  There is much data to be gathered, research to be done, competitive analysis to assemble, and it all needs to be assessed and processed.  There is an extraordinary amount of information to sort through in order to determine what’s valid vs what’s relevant as it relates to the marketing, branding and communication of your product, service or business. Good ideas take time. Don’t expect to rush the process.

That said, expect them to keep you updated on what’s happening and the progress that’s being made. Expect weekly communication at the very least.

Expect them to first give you what you ask for…then to bring you alternative thinking if they believe it will serve you better. They’ll expect you to be open to hearing their ideas. If you have doubts just ask questions to understand their thinking—there might be something that didn’t occur to you, something even better than you asked for.

All in all, don’t expect miracles.  But expect really good stuff if you’ve established the kind of partnership described above.


The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Entrepreneurs wear many hats.”  I am equally as sure that if you are running a business you have come to understand the sentiment behind this phrase very well.

Being nimble and able to make quick decisions, and jump in and roll up our sleeves to do whatever needs done to propel our businesses forward is all part of being a successful entrepreneur. And you are willing to wear whatever hat best fits the task at hand. The thing is, not every hat fits the same, so inevitably you start to wear some hats less and less and those things end up being overlooked. But the important thing to remember is: that’s ok.

Sometimes, as entrepreneurs it's hard to admit that you aren’t able to handle everything in your business perfectly. It is ok to realize that no one looks perfect in EVERY hat.

The trick to being a successful entrepreneur is to figure out which hats best suit your skill set and hand the other hats off to professionals who can handle them.

Let’s think about this: Which hat best fits you?

Hat 1: Business Owner

Legal, operations, financial responsibilities, vision and mission

Hat 2: Sales

New business sourcing, sales tactics and materials, follow up, sales

Hat 3: Accountant

AR and AP, cash flow, P&L, payroll

Hat 4: HR

Employees, benefits, hiring

Hat 5:  IT

Infrastructure, updates, security, software

Hat 6: Client Management

Tracking, communication, fulfillment

Hat 7: Marketing

Strategies and analytics

Hat 8: Marketing

Digital media (website, social media)

Hat 9: Marketing

Branding, packaging, creative

Hat 10: Advertising

Promotions, giveaways, coupons, paid spots

Trying to wear all of these hats all the time will certainly drive you mad. So, take a moment and consider your strengths and find the hats that best fit you, then find trusted professionals to handle the others. In the end, it will free you up to do the things you enjoy doing, and saving your sanity.