How to better understand your market, product, and competition in one day

At MakeStickers.com we print millions of custom vinyl stickers each year. Yearly growth and positive feedback from customers tells us we're doing a lot of things right, but we're always careful not to fool ourselves by only listening to our fans.

There are other online custom sticker printers in the world (who shall remain un-named), and we know there are differences in the way stickers can be made. The details aren't important, but different materials and processes lead to a slightly different sticker product. We started to wonder what people like. We know our customers like our stickers, but how do we know they wouldn't prefer something different?

The good thing is that empirical questions like this can be answered through some simple research. We ordered stickers from a number of our competitors (taking notes and screenshots along the way), and set up a focus group. Each participant was given a bag of stickers, labeled A-F on the back. We gave a set of instructions, having each person compare the stickers while still on the backing, then peeling them off and applying them to a hard surface. Participants gave individual ratings for each sticker on paper, and then discussed the pros and cons of each sticker as a group.

We did something similar using our website and competitors' websites.

While facilitating the focus group, we never told the participants which company we were from, so the information we collected was completely unbiased.

For about $2,500 and a day of time on the focus group, we obtained extremely valuable information. It was encouraging to see how much our stickers were preferred, but it was even more valuable to learn about the few negative aspects that some people mentioned.

We learned that what makes a sticker good to one person might make it bad to another, but more importantly, we have some estimate of how those preferences break down among the population. And it feels odd to say, but we learned things that our competitors really would want to know about their own product (But we're never going to tell).

In a later post, I'll list some of the lessons learned and key points to consider to pull off a successful focus group. After doing one, the value is clear, and we're already planning our next.