Editor’s note: Alan Nazarelli is president and CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research firm, San Jose, Calif. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Make your next focus group an ‘unfocus group.’”

Focus groups are named after the traditional thinking that the group discussion is focused around a particular topic. The proceedings of the group and any structured probing or exercises are designed to shed light on the main topic.

A diametrically different tool is the unfocus group. What is the point of the unfocus group? It’s to explore the white spaces, the terra incognita that resides in the consumer’s mind that is typically not known to marketers. An unfocus group is a conversation with your customers without an agenda. No discussion guide. Just getting to know people without giving thought to deriving insights that will directly affect product or marketing decisions.

Why would a company spend money doing this? Here are a few reasons to try an unfocus groups:

When and how often should you conduct unfocus groups? Once or twice a year, depending on the scale and scope of your annual market research effort (and therefore budget) would be a good cadence. Fall is a great time for those with fiscal years that match the calendar year, as ideas feed nicely into next year’s plans and priorities.

Good luck with your next focus group. May it be an unfocus group!