When looking for inspiration or for innovation, many marketers turn to focus groups. This is "tried and true", makes us feel like we are gaining insight and a valuable understanding of consumer behaviour. And while, yes, it may yield some insight, it won’t necessarily lead to breakthrough innovation.

Focus groups reiterate old stories. The participants talk about your brand and your products or services and (depending on the strength of your brand) will tell your story according to their experience. In general, the story you will hear in focus groups is already yesterday’s story (or last weeks’ or last years’).

But innovation is about future stories. Innovation doesn’t start with "once upon a time", it starts with "imagine if …". Innovation is hard work, but it must be done by YOU. You can’t expect your customers to innovate for you (and I know there are some who do … but I am talking about customers not evangelists) … it is not their job. As Steve Cone says "Focus Groups are a waste of time and money" … and quoting Henry Ford:

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."

The innovation that a customer may have about your business is to move to your competitor who is engaging them in product development via blogs, updating them with podcasts and serving them with truly unique products. So start imagining your future today, and start telling a whole new story (maybe in a whole new way).

S.