Using focus groups to test an upcoming product / service / system is common practice and can really help pin point issues before launch date. Depending on the money behind the product, the size and variety of the target population there can be several focus group tests and/or different phases before launch. On the other hand some companies don't do anything, considering that their knowledge is paramount to any form of focus group feedback.
It is more and more frequent that companies launch web based services as a 'beta' and thus acquire testers to provide feedback on the system and help them perfect it. When done properly it can even be sold as a special invite only, VIP type event so that users feel special. But companies that launch their new product or service, with a new look and feel, can get a deluge of feedback from unhappy customers. If a focus group has one person representing loyal customers and gets swayed by the whole idea of being part of the focus group this can skew the feedback. The other loyal customers may be really unhappy about seeing a change in the packaging or look and feel of the new product. Tropicana recently changed their design but has now decided to switch from their new packaging design back to the old following all the complaints. As a Tropicana loyal customer it was a shock for me to see this new packaging (even though it is for the US). I mean it looks like some cheap orange juice and has no soul to it!
And the one that I just love to see in my fridge:
What is interesting around the whole Tropicana packaging debacle is that how the message got back to Pepsi the owners of the Tropicana brand. There was a deluge of messages telephone calls, forums, letters, emails, twitter...
An article on NY times about the Tropicana incident talks about the ad for Motrin pain:
And in November, many consumers who used Twitter to criticize an ad for Motrin pain reliever received responses within 48 hours from the brandâ€™s maker, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, which apologized for the ad and told them it had been withdrawn.