So how can you make the most out of customer focus groups? Use a line of questioning at the beginning of the session to get people loosened up, and then use the notes you gather to inform your content marketing strategy.

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When you begin your session, hold off on whatever formal testing or questioning you've got planned, and instead start the group off with some casual conversation. Get them warmed up with exploratory topics before focusing them. Doing so will help people shift into "thinking mode" as well as get comfortable with the group dynamic. Here are five questions designed to do just that, and whose answers are perfect fodder for blog posts , ebooks and other types of website content.

1. Ask Them about Industry Trends

Example: "What kinds of things do you see going on in the industry?"

Seems like a basic question, right? One that you or an analyst from your company has likely "figured out" from culling through binders of sales data or has been the title of a report you purchased from a research house. But I digress. Ask this question to discover the answer straight from the mouths of the people whom these trends affect most. Doing so will allow you to articulate key observations, issues, and concerns back to your larger customer base in their own language.

2. Ask Them Which Features/Components They Like Most About Your Products

Example: "What do you like the most about our product? Why do buy our products again and again?"

You would never take the answers and write a blog article or ebook titled "10 Reasons Our Product is Awesome," but listening to your customers discuss the positives of your products/services in a more general sense will help you write content that reflects where your products/services meet and exceed market expectations. These pieces of content will help you underscore your value proposition in ways that resonate with your website readers and prospects.

3. Ask Them About Your Competitors

Example: "What about our competitor's product? You use ours instead of theirs, so please explain where they fail and we succeed."

Similar to the above, most marketers aren't bold enough to post a blog article titled "5 Reasons Our Competitor Sucks." But by asking this question and parsing out the WHY as it pertains to different features or the design of your competitor's stuff, you will be able to write a blog about the disadvantages of what you DO NOT do and subtly advocate for what you DO do.

4. Ask Them How They Use Your Products

Example: "Tell me about where, when, and how you use our products?"

A favorite when designers or UX people are behind the glass, the answers to this question can be a fascinating glimpse into consumers' needs and usage patterns. You're likely to recognize a lot of what gets said here, but new behaviors always come up. Whether or not these use-cases are valuable enough to make the "products" page on your site or get bold lettering on your new package design is yet to be seen. Regardless, take the context and details of these new use-cases and craft some usage-based content (e.g. "5 Tips for Using XYZ Products" or "5 Things You Didn't Know XYZ Did"). Doing so will further engage your current customers and increase the number of features prospects see in what you sell.  

5. Ask Them What They Wish For

Example: "If you could add any feature to our products/services, what would it be?"

This one is my favorite. Totally open-ended and free form. It's a great way to close a focus group, so save it until the end. Let them go where they want with this one, then run with the answers and create "how xyz would work" types of posts. One customer's opinion is usually representative of many more, and folks on your blog will love seeing that you're considering a functionality they've been hoping for. For everyone else, your "what if?" and "could we?" style content will come across as beneficially forward-thinking and transparent.

What other questions can you ask in customer focus groups to feed content marketing ideas?

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Originally published Aug 8, 2011 3:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


Content Marketing