Testing new funds and services in focus groups

Posted by Martin Stott

Launching a new product and getting it wrong can be an expensive business. To help you get it right, Bulletin offers a focus group service, which can test market demand for a new product or service, highlight key benefits to optimise marketing messages and identify any problems before launch.

The IFAs shifted nervously in their seats, glancing upwards occasionally at the large two-way mirror looming on the wall over the shoulder of their interrogator.

On the other side of the glass, a group of men, sleeves rolled up, shirt collars open, tired after a long day at their desks, watched anxiously, desperate for answers.

It sounds like the start of Bulletin’s new e-book City detective series. It’s actually an evening research focus group held in a specialist studio in a converted Victorian villa in the West End.

Half a dozen advisers sitting around a large table in one room are being introduced to a new investment service by a specialist facilitator.

He briefly explains its features and how it works and then asks them a series of questions designed to gauge what they like about it (to support future marketing messaging) and expose problems (to shape marketing and product design).

A second group will go through the same process in another couple of hours – to help ensure the discussion is more representative of the likely marketplace reception. The advisers are paid for their time – a reasonable inconvenience allowance, but not excessive.

The client team in the adjoining room are watching through the mirror and listening to an audio feed. They never meet the advisers, but one of the Bulletin team can go into the room and take answers to any difficult questions that might stump the facilitator.

The advisers (it could equally be a representative sample of the population) are aware they are being watched but soon settle in and forget about the mirror, debating the merits of the service, exploring how it will fit with their existing proposition and probing the remuneration arrangements.

On this occasion one or two of the older advisers are clearly not interested, but others say it might help them cater for what one nicely terms “incubator” clients – those not yet wealthy enough for a full client service but heading in the right direction.

The product developers on the other side of the glass shake their heads in surprise at times and nod, reassured, at others. Their perception of whose needs the service meets have changed and they realise they need to revisit how advisers are rewarded and whether they can reduce risk from a professional indemnity perspective.

“That has saved us many thousands of pounds and months of work,” says the CEO afterwards. “It could make the difference between a successful launch and us floundering and making changes on the hoof in public.”

It’s expensive to launch a new product and get it wrong – far better to ask intermediaries or

the end customer what they think of it and how it can be improved. If the feedback is good you know it’s commercially viable – you may even be able to use some of the research findings in your launch. If not, you’ve saved yourself many problems and can head back to the drawing board with useful knowledge to guide the redesign.

The FCA is applying pressure on advisers to raise their game in researching products and services. Some believe that ultimately this will mean the producers coming under more pressure – whether from the regulator or advisers – to articulate more clearly the audiences for whom new products and services are best suited. Focus group research could be a useful part of that process.

If you want to know how focus groups might help you, or would like an idea of costs, contact Martin Fox (telephone 07912 388640).

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