"I had heard of focus groups before, but I had always thought they were for advertising, trying to sell people something that probably they really didn't need. But this was different. Product development focus groups are designed to help manufacturers understand what people really want and the features they really need, so they can go ahead and produce it," explains Ms Parijeva. "I felt I really contributed something important by participating."
"Another major benefit of participating is social networking," says Ms Cook, a regular participant. "I don't really like the term social networking because it sounds so academic. What it really means is that you can become acquainted with and make friends with people you might otherwise never meet. Having moved to Belgium from Manchester just over a year ago, I found this an excellent way to start up my new life in a new country," she explains.
B & B Consultants in Brussels specialises in creating and conducting product development focus groups, then analysing the results.
Importance of Volunteers
"Obviously, the key to the whole process are the consumer 'volunteers' who take part. They are volunteers not in the sense that they don't get paid (there is a small reimbursement of ¤50 for participating), but in the nobler sense that they are making a useful contribution to future prosperity and well-being," explains B&B's Dany Neuret.
"Right now, companies are particularly eager to get input from recent UK ex-patriots in Belgium in an effort to help lead the country (and the world) out of its current doldrums," Mr Neuret says. "A focus group session generally takes from one to two hours" he explains.
Because these focus groups are held well before the product is even manufactured, they ask participants such basic questions as: What kind of products do you really need? What specific features do you really want? What are the best ways of packaging and presenting them to you? And so on.