With all this talk of celebrity focus groups I thought it might be a good time to revisit
a MotoringFile story from last spring in which we were lucky enough to get a first hand account of a full research session conducted by MINI to help shape future products (originally posted 05/18/04):

As reported a few months ago, MINI is currently involved in select consumer research to help it shape the next iteration of the MINI. About 2000 MINI owners were contacted to fill out a survey on what size, shape and style of MINI they’d like to see join the range. From there, about 50 were selected to attend special hands on sessions to help further identify which direction MINI should take. The hands on consumer research has taken place and we have a first hand account of what happened behind closed doors. This account was sent in by Eric:

“It was interesting, they wanted us to help them design the NEXT MINI as in an expansion to the line up like adding a wagon, adding a truck, making it All
wheel drive, bigger version, smaller version, practicality etc.

However they really didn’t say much about the future models as the main point of the survey was to get our ideas and opinions for future models. MINI hired a company called Iceology to conduct this part of the survey (they are hired by other car manufactures to do similar surveys). At the beginning they gave the impression that MINI is planning to expand their line up. They said that some of the more probable future models were a wagon or maybe a slightly larger version to accommodate “families”.

It would seem from the questions they asked that they definitely want to attract more potential buyers and expanding the MINI line up. There were actually three MINI Division people who watched the interview in a separate room via camera. They came in Dealer Plated MINIs and one of them was a JCW MCS. Everything we did were recorded and documented I guess for review by MINI themselves. They hand picked and selected 50 individuals out of 2000 some people who participated in the initial survey for this session based on the answers we provided; that’s what they told us. It wasn’t clear if this was just for southern California or the whole of the US. Each session was comprised of a group of 10. So there were a total of 10 people doing the survey at one time Fri. 6 to 9 Sat 9 to 12 and 1 to 4 and Sunday 9 to 12 and 1 to 4.

Everyone was told to be there 15 mins ahead of time So I arrived at about 8:50 🙂 and then took the elevators up to the 15th floor we were greeted by the staff and was told to have some breakfast where everyone chatted for a while. By the breakfast table there was a sign in sheet and name tags
already made out for us to wear. Then promptly at 9am we were escorted into the conference room where they set up a TV for slides and had a camera and microphones all over the table to record us. In front of us at the table were folders and a 1:28 scale MINI. (I’ll get back to these).

For the first 30 mins they displayed our name, the car we have, and the reason we put down for why we got our MINIs on the initial survey and told
us to explain ourselves. Then they also showed what brand we most associated
ourselves with and w/out and told us to explain that. (this was also asked
in the initial online survey) I guess they wanted to know why people bought
MINIs and see what the similarities and how people thought. Mostly everyone
agreed that it was a FUN car and its unique.

Then for the next 30 mins we were asked to open up the folder in front of us and take out the first sheet of paper that was on the left side and what it had was the MINI and 5 blank lines. We were told to write 5 words that describe the MINI and then take out the next sheet of paper and fill out which famous person, movie star, politicians, etc that we associate most
with with the MINI brand (not counting anyone from the Italian Job Movies both old and new). We then went around and named off the words that we wrote down and the famous person we used to associate MINI with and explained that. I used Madonna, not because she has on nor because she had a song about it but because she’s herself, she’s unique and different than other
people, she’s just Madonna and that’s how the MINI is. So after we went
around they told us to do the same for the rest of the sheets that were in
the packet which were automobile brands and we were suppose to associate a
famous person with each brand that’s listed.

Some of those included: Toyota, BMW, Honda, VW, and there was a special one w/out a brand… the last one… it was just a picture of a smart car. I knew it was the smart car but they didn’t tell us and didn’t list it.

Then for the next hour we were told to go outside where they provided us with construction paper, magazines, markers etc etc etc to create the NEXT
MINI. they paired us up according to the internet survey again. (so it seems
they based a lot of things on that survey.) while this was going on they
actually had the camera roaming around recording each and every team to see
their progress.

After that hour was up they gathered us up back in the meeting room where we presented our ideas and asked us a few questions about our ideas to make it as clear as possible. I guess for MINI to see and understand. Well when we went back into the room they actually changed the MINI models on the table that I first mentioned to match our cars as close as possible. that was pretty cool, and we got to keep those cars.

When we left they handed us each a MINI bag and inside was a Free MINI Key Chain and a black envelope with $200 in cash. interesting huh… they didn’t ask for our address to send us a check or anything… just cash in a bag!

A huge thanks to Eric for writing this account and sharing it with us. I for one find it fascinating to see how MINI is going about creating an addition to the current range. It’s obviously being done with great care and understanding of the brand. It’s also appearing less likely we’ll see some sort of small SUV MINI. This is certainly a welcoming sign that the brand is in good hands.