Picture this scenario. You’ve commissioned and briefed the research agency, you’ve approved the discussion guide, the viewing facility has been booked, venue map and times have been e-mailed to all and sundry — and you’re off to hang on every word your consumer says. This is important, you mustn’t miss a thing and your credibility in front of your internal clients is on the line.

It’s good to view research groups. It gives you a chance to see the whites of your consumers’ eyes, hear the language they use, see how they understand the role of your brand, product or service in their lives, watch their reaction (hopefully positive but frequently fiercely critical) to your finely crafted customer propositions.

But it’s important to remember one key thing: This Isn’t Normal. How many times have you had a conversation with a room full of strangers knowing unseen people are watching you through a one-way mirror? Think ‘Big Brother’ (but without the hot tub?) and you are probably nearer to the truth.

To be honest, viewing groups is almost an unreal event — people don’t generally sit around discussing ads or brands, comparing and contrasting in detail. Nor do groups exist for the sole purpose of your amusement (although sometimes they are entertaining). They are there to inform on a number of specific issues. A quiet group is not necessarily a bad group — neither is a loud one a good one. We are generally dealing with ‘ordinary’ people who will be variously reserved, critical, dozy, cynical, unruly, etc., etc., — i.e. normal.

Facility wish list

So what makes for a good viewing facility? Here is the ideal wish list:

  • Location: It’s worth stating the obvious, but the easier it is to get to the better. Transport links are therefore important, ideally with parking. Choosing a venue close to the key internal client’s home will earn good brownie points.

  • Hosts: A warm welcome and a willingness to deal with requests will create a favourable impression.

  • Accommodation: A mix of formal and informal seating (e.g. sofas) to cater for both the avid note takers and the couch potatoes. And a personal plea, how about air-conditioning controls that do not require membership of MENSA to operate.

  • Food and Drink: Always welcome after a long day in the office. I’ve had more good hot dinners in viewing facilities than I have had, er..., hot dinners and generally the standard is quite high. So there is no need to call in Jamie Oliver just yet.

  • Audio/Visual: Optimum sound clarity is a must and alternative camera angles will also enhance the experience. While VHS tapes are probably still the preferred recording medium, we should recognise that we are in the digital age and, as such, CD/DVD options should also be made available.

So what can you expect if you use a viewing facility? ?

  • A means of bringing your target audience to your internal clients ?
  • A sense of perspective ?
  • Immediate insights

..... and knowing that you’ve used a valuable resource well, that will enable you to make better informed decisions.