A DIY Home Remedy for Focus Groups.

I’m a big believer in research.

Broadway has gotten a lot better about this subject over the years, but we’re still one of the few industries that will spend $15 million to develop a commercial product, and not test it before it goes to market.

Can you imagine any other big business doing that?

Me neither.

That’s why I do focus groups or quantitative analysis (or both) on every show I do.  While I’d like to believe that I know all the answers to what makes a theatergoer buy a ticket to one show versus another … I don’t.

But I do believe it’s a Producer’s job to try and find out.

And research is one way to do just that.

And hey, if it’s good enough for other billion dollar businesses, from fashion to TV to politics, then shouldn’t it be good enough for Broadway too?

Research can be expensive, however.  And, of course, the argument against surveys and focus groups is that people respond differently when asked for their opinion, as opposed to when they are just giving their opinion.  (This is one of the reasons why we’re leaning towards ethnography, studying by observing.  I’ve always wanted to put cameras in a theater to record an AUDIENCE over several nights . . . and see when they are laughing, when they are falling asleep, when they are checking their phones.)

In the meantime, there are ways to do low/no cost focus groups, that get more honest opinions.

Here’s my favorite home remedy for a show in need of a focus group:

Step 1:  Scrape all of the comments, tweets, user reviews, etc for a show from sites online . . . look on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, ShowScore, NYTimes, AllThatChat, etc., etc.  Anywhere people talk about shows and your show.

Step 2:  Find the words that appear the most often in these reviews or the phrases, etc.  Put them in a word cloud or just sort them from the most common to the least common.

Step 3:  Positive words that are used to describe your show in greater frequency are words you might want to consider putting into your marketing.  Negative words/phrases/comments that appear with greater frequency are areas you need to address.

While this isn’t foolproof, and lacks the more scientific approach that qualified research personnel would employ, it’s better than nothing and can at least point you in the right direction of where your marketing or your creative should be headed.

But don’t let the research tell you how to get there.  Let it be like a compass, encouraging you towards true north. It’s up to your team and you to figure out the exact path you want to take.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.