The Importance of Focus Groups for Community Branding

One of the most challenging aspects of community branding is collaboration and focus groups are a great way to get the ball rolling. Focus groups provide a level of interaction and communication that surveys and individual interviews cannot attain. Strategic gems and new growth avenues can come of community focus groups. An even greater value of focus groups is the simple notion of inclusion. Sure, the more people you hear from, the more perspectives you gain. But focus groups also help people feel more invested in your brand process, giving you a better chance of brand acceptance at the conclusion of the process.

Here’s one of those strategic gems. During one of our recent in-market trips, one of the 10 focus groups we conducted was with outdoor recreation and outdoor manufacturing stakeholders.  It was the first time this group had convened to discuss challenges, opportunities and a team approach to working together.  More meetings followed and an Outdoor Recreation Coalition with more than 100 members was recently formed. It created the momentum needed to get a high level of interest and enthusiasm in their place branding initiative.

The central value of focus groups is gathering insights, but they also build community investment in the branding process. What’s more, they can help turn negative voices into positives ones. In several communities, we have been warned of a few individuals in the community who are negative about everything. Our response is often, “invite them to a focus group.” First, they can vent their feelings (better to have that happen early in the process than later). Second, often the others in the room will challenge them and their negativity. The feedback may help them re-think their negative views (a little peer pressure never hurts) and pave the way for acceptance and an embrace of the brand direction on the back end of the process.

Skipping focus groups in community branding is a shortcut that will limit your chance of long-term success. Focus groups may not be the answer for every question, like designing a new product or designing a logo, but they are critical for place branding and one of the foundational tools for aligning attitudes and future teamwork. Your community members have great insights. Let them share them, bounce them off one another and build ideas together. Their insights are invaluable and asking them to share gives them greater ownership in the final brand outcome.