Focus Group Play Dates

by Barbara Milgram | Posted in Focus Groups, Projective Techniques |




In case you were wondering, no one wants his insurance agent to be a cow.

Recently I used toy animals as a projective technique to help uncover what consumers really want from insurance agents.  These are extremely detailed toy animals made of some polymer. They are the right size to fill your palm and watching consumers hold their “idealized” agent in the palm of their hand was incredibly illuminating. It is research and it is play: a technique recently written up by The New York Times for yielding surprisingly deep and fresh insights.

I have a plastic box that holds a couple dozen of these animals, which I dump on the table in front of my group.  Invariably, people’s faces light up.  The discussion about insurance, or any topic for that matter starts to look like fun.

I ask people to select an animal that represents the qualities they want in an insurance agent and they eagerly sift through the pile.  Out comes the golden retriever, the nurturing tigress gently dangling her cub from her mouth and the sturdy, approachable horse.  This shows the warm, nurturing side of insurance agents, the side they want to experience when they call about a car accident, a flood or tree landing on the roof.

More sifting and out comes the lion, the panther, and the alligator.  This shows the side of their agent they want when it comes to dealing with the underwriter.  This fight can get dirty and they want their agent to be tough enough to prevail in the dirty swamp that the insurance industry can be.

This project illuminated what many moderators know.  Turning a market research project into a play date releases people’s creativity.  Consumers’ juices start flowing and what might otherwise be a dry, boring category starts to feel engaging, interactive and rich.

Now I just wonder when the cow will have his day.

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