Focus Groups Are Dead, Welcome to the Smoke Test Era

1950s women around board room table

By Firas Mghames, Managing Director at FEER McQUEEN

Focus Groups have been an advertising must-have since forever, ensuring campaigns hit the spot before rolling them out. The hit TV show Mad Men depicted it excellently: the Pond’s focus group where women were gathered in a room to discuss and share their beauty routines and habits, leading to some tears and a dramatic exit, but lots of insight into key customers’ lifestyles, allowing for precise and targeted ads. Brilliant work! But now, Focus Groups have been set on the back burner, most recently due to COVID-19 restrictions and the necessity for fast and precise results as the tech era is on the rise. So, what’s next? Focus Groups are now dead. Welcome to the Smoke Test Era.

Everyone Is Now Just A Click Away

In the Ad world, Focus Groups have been used to test content before launching a campaign in order to reduce unwanted reactions and make amendments prior to the campaign being rolled out to the general public. This used to take a lot of time and effort – and at the end of the day, we had 1, 2 or 3 focus groups (8 to 10 people each) who are meant to represent tens of thousands of people – that’s a long shot! In today’s technologically advanced world, there’s no longer the need to waste time on all of that because people are now on social media – everyone is just a click away. This is where the Smoke Test comes in – triggering a reaction by running ads online and seeing who clicked, who paused over the ad, and who just completely ignored it. In summary, a Smoke Test is the process of running several tests (in digital marketing, known as ‘running ads’) involving important variables to determine which strategy performs best, to improve future campaigns, and to understand insights from users. The variables changed around could be the creative, the audience, or the placement. You could run the same key visual and tagline for several different, carefully targeted audiences and see which performs best – there, you’ve got your target audience! You could even stick to one audience and play around with different taglines to see which one hits the spot.

Its Natural Evolution

It’s true that if we compare the Focus Group to the Smoke Test, the tools have changed, and the method of measurement has changed, but there’s nothing to be alarmed about. At the end of the day, we’re still measuring people’s reactions to our ads, and that’s what’s most important. We’re even doing it in a more time-efficient and cost-efficient way. What’s great about Smoke Tests is that digital marketing is all about targeting – we can make our own audience pool, be it based on culture, language, behavior…etc. The more precise you wish to be, the smaller your pool gets. We can even test our different visuals and videos, all by way of the Smoke Test. So, if you look closer, nothing has really changed. It’s the same philosophy of testing out content and gathering reactions and feedback to come as close to perfection as possible when answering the question, “What does my customer want?” and the golden ideal, “What will my customer buy?” All that has happened is just the natural evolution of adopting digital tools.

Launching A Smoke Test Isn’t Hard

Besides, launching your own Smoke Tests isn’t hard, all you have to do is choose the variable or feature you would like to test and go for it. You can test your ad’s images, videos, and messages. You can even change up your audience and try out content with different age ranges, genders, interests, countries of residence, education, relationship status, and more. You could try setting up audiences with similar interests, but different age groups or genders to compare performance by demographic. Why not try comparing a saved custom audience to see how effective your ads are at reaching various demographics? To top it off, some platforms even have A/B testing that allows you to change multiple variables if you want to compare two complex strategies against each other on the same cost per result or cost per conversion lift basis. You can make changes to the campaign, ad set, or ad when using multiple variables. It’s all a wonderful game of testing for the digital marketers out there, with the aim to reach goals and get conversions with the finalized and perfected campaign.

If They Cry & Don’t Buy, We Have Nothing

One thing is for certain: we need that one-on-one digital imprint – we want to measure real numbers and clicks. If they cry but don’t buy, we have nothing. Smoke Tests can actually measure the tangible, physical click. The more sellable the product is online, or the more “clickable”, the more reliable the results are. Today, people can give their opinions online automatically – this is the perfect “focus group” feedback with online surveys, polls, reviews, ratings, etc. Focus Groups are dead, and we’re definitely not mourning them. The Smoke Test is the new way to make it.

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