Consumer Surveys · April 29, 2014

The Power of Anonymity

By Larry Rosin

When I started working in research for radio stations, Focus Groups were a regular part of the station’s arsenal.  Listening to ‘real people’ talk about a station, personalities, or the radio market in general was frequently eye-opening on many levels.

Today, leaner budgets have made formal Focus Groups dramatically less common.  Often they are replaced in the radio industry by bringing in “super fan” listeners, recruited from the station’s email listener club, into the station conference room.  Other companies and industries have their own version of this methodology. While this approach has merit  – especially to connect with the absolutely most-loyal customers or audience members — there is an important distinction to be made.

And that is – people simply are not going to say to your face, in your conference room, what they really think.  The overwhelming majority of people are polite and know the rules of civil discourse.  You just don’t “call someone’s baby ugly.” And so you’re just not going to learn what they really think about your company, station, or brand.

To wit, watch this brilliant bit from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

If you can’t view the video right now – interviewers ask Yankee fans their opinion of former Yankee Robinson Canó and then ask them to “boo” a picture of him. While they are booing, Mr. Canó walks out from behind a screen.

You will note how completely the people change when they see Mr. Canó in the flesh.  They smile, shake his hand – they are excited and all the negative energy disappears (even if some embarrassment remains).

There is a research lesson here for any organization. In an era when so many brands are reaching out to their fans in social media or from their loyal customer database, there is a clear need to institute (or re-institute) formal qualitative research.  People just aren’t going to readily talk about how much they like other options in our own conference rooms, whether those rooms are online or offline.  Allowing people to talk in more ‘anonymous’ settings can only help our efforts.

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