While we benefit from having a more diverse group at our dinner tables and conference room tables, the table I’m talking about is the focus group table. It’s not only the client I like to invite to the table but also external participants with a range of relevant perspectives that expands our vision, activates our empathy, and deepens our insight.

Instead of the usual exclusions, more of my clients are agreeing to expand the description of who we invite to the table to enhance the experience for our clients. This is true not only for my clients in stratospheric niche businesses but also my mainstream clients. My high-end clients are looking for unique recruiting methods because they are looking for atypical consumers, and my more mainstream clients are open to my belief that everyone shows up for a reason. For clients who like the idea of expanding who we invite to the table, here are some ways to think about who to include.


Don’t just seat people at the table who have the most experience with your brand and are the most likely to use your product or service to understand their devotion and loyalty. Expand the definition of category user to include aficionados of all kinds. For example, if you’re developing an ice cream brand, invite ice cream lovers –people who know and like all kinds of brands and flavors, make their own, people who have been to every ice cream and gelato store within 50 miles of where they live and in every town they’ve visited around the world. To them, ice cream is so much more than a favorite childhood birthday cake; it’s their favorite part of the meal.


Don’t just seek ice cream aficionados but people who consume all kinds of rich and creamy foods and beverages. They like to bake; they create signature drinks for the parties they host. They get invited to others’ parties so that they can bring their signature dessert. These are the people who are early adopters of all things rich and creamy, emerging channels, regional tastes, and kitchen gadgets. They are food articulate, and can bring flavors and food experiences to life. They may have relevant experience in adjacent businesses, so continuing with our ice cream example, we may invite  owners of a  pastry shop, chocolate business or dairy farm.


In spite of our best recruiting efforts, and screening and rescreening, some people who show up for our groups don’t fit the screening criteria. Even if they don’t, I encourage my clients to take the ones that are articulate and creative. They may not have as much experience as we wanted with our products or category, but they come with more than enough imagination and creativity to help us achieve our objectives. There was one particularly articulate young man who showed up to a focus group with arms covered with body art before body art was common. Although his clothes were normal enough, he wore them in an unusual way. My client agreed to invite him to the table. When he introduced himself at the beginning of the session, he told a story about what it’s like being a special ed teacher. From that moment on how he looked was irrelevant. What he contributed that day opened everyone’s hearts and minds, and the solutions we developed were bigger and farther-reaching than anyone’s expectations. 

Whether you’re developing a new product or need to breathe life into an existing one, do you have the right people at your table to achieve the speed and success you need?