A Focus Group of 1

A classic red cruiser: the Schwinn Phantom. Th...
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As we continue to build our business at spinback we continue to engage in a number of very interesting conversations on the topic of product recommendations and sharing. Jared Spiegel, a friend of mine and someone who is currently participating in the Brooklyn Law Incubation Program (BLIP), made the following point that I thought really highlights the core of why product sharing is so valuable. His point is this:

Suppose you are interested in purchasing a new bike. The single most important thing that you are looking for is durability and reliability. That is, you don’t care about looks, design, or wheel style – what you do care about is the frequency of repair. As a reasonable and sensible person, you consult Consumer Reports and learn that the bike with the best repair record is clearly a Schwinn. No other bike even comes close. Naturally, you decide that the next day you are going to buy a Schwinn bicycle.

Suppose that the night before you are going to make your purchase, you are at dinner with a few friends where you announce your intention to buy a new bike. One of your friends at the table says “I just bought a Trek bicycle last week and I love it! It’s much better than my rusted, beat-up Schwinn. In fact, I’ve never been so happy with a bike in my life!”

Let’s suppose that the ranking you read on Consumer Reports was based on a sample of 1,000 bike owners. Your friend’s preference for his Trek bike (and distaste for his old Schwinn) has increased the size of the sample to 1,001. It has added one negative case to your statistical bank. Logically, this should not affect your decision. But a large body of research indicates that such occurrences, because of their personal character and connection between the purchaser and the source of the information, assume far more importance than their logical, statistical status would imply. All other things being equal, most people are more deeply influenced by one clear, personal example than by an abundance of statistical data.

So even if there is a large data set that crunches consumer reviews looking for the very best product, it really only takes a focus group of one and a personal connection to influence someone’s buying decision.

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