Focus groups are used to conduct market research and better understand target audiences, customer bases, opinions on products and services, brand perception, and anything else related to a company’s marketing efforts or functional processes.
To conduct an effective focus group, it’s important to rely on a skilled moderator or team of moderators who can formulate thoughtful questions and lead the conversation to gain deeper insights and valuable information.
In every focus group, the goal is for all participants to join the conversation and provide a variety of ideas and opinions for each question asked.
Step 1. Define Your Overall Goals
When conducting a focus group, there must be a point to the conversation. For the most part, a focus group works to either confirm a theory or belief or disprove it. Before conducting yours, determine your theories and what you want your research to discover.
For example, let’s say you are the CEO of MmmHop, a company that produces food products with cricket flour. Your mission is to provide kids with delicious, healthy, protein-packed snacks, breakfast bars, and desserts as an alternative to the too-sugary options currently stocked on the shelves at big-name grocery stores.
To help guide your marketing decisions and make the most successful jump onto the shelves, you need to know how consumers respond to eating things that contain crickets. You believe that cricket flour is an excellent alternative for people to try. One of your goals should be to understand people’s true opinions about insect-based flour so that you can see who is more likely to try the product and who would never give the product a shot. Knowing each can help guide your marketing decisions, from messaging to ad spend and everything in between. And a series of focus groups can help reveal the insights you need.
Step 2. Determine the Scope of Your Research
Without limits, your focus group efforts could expand and become more extensive than initially intended. Your goals, or what you want to discover, require set boundaries to guide your team to the most useful research results. By determining the scope of your research, you can form better sample groups and develop the most strategic and info-extracting questions to ask.
For instance, as the CEO of MmmHop, you want to understand just how receptive or not receptive people are to eating cricket-based foods, especially children and their parents. You created your product as a healthy alternative to overly sugary, carb-heavy food products, which are usually most successfully marketed to children and their parents. You want your products to contend well, so the scope of your research could be to analyze how your product would be perceived and received by:
- Families with young children
- Families with teens
- Families of certain income statuses
- Families of various cultural groups
Based on what you decide your scope should be, you will have better guidance in forming your groups and the questions you need to ask them.
Step 3. Choose Your Groups of Interest
Once your scope is defined, you will need to decide the types of groups you should meet with to get the most information and satisfy the research portion of the project. There are a thousand and one ways to organize your groups, some more effective than others, so think strategically when zeroing in on the groups you will be speaking with.
Focus group results should not be used to determine an entire population’s feelings or perceptions toward the topic at hand, but rather, they should help shed light on the perceptions of a particular segment of your audience. Randomly selecting participants is not usually a practical option for a focus group, as the participants may not have answers to your group-specific questions or provide as much insight as a sample group that is intentionally selected.
Going back to MmmHop, a part of your goals is to know what parents of young children think about feeding their kids products made of cricket flour. You believe that because cricket flour is nutritionally beneficial and packed with protein, parents should want to feed their children MmmHop items. But, if you have a randomly selected sample, you may end up with a group that includes a fair number of child-free adults, preventing you from receiving the most effective feedback or insight from parents with young children.
The best tactic is to create a series of groups to speak with that fit within the scope of your research and can offer a variety of opinions and perspectives. In the case of MmmHop, you may want to speak with any of the following:
- Parents of younger children
- Parents of teens
- Health-conscious parents
- Parents who opt for less healthy products
You do not have to speak with every possible group of interest, but it is wise to speak with a variety of groups to get as diverse feedback as possible to help guide decisions.
Step 4. Create Your Questions for Each Group
Question creation is a crucial aspect of your research that can make or break your analysis.
Well-planned, well-formulated questions tend to lead to more thoughtful answers and stronger feedback, while poorly planned questions can leave you wanting more information from your group.
To create effective focus group questions, keep these tips in mind:
- Create questions that are open-ended and not easily answerable with a simple “yes” or “no.”
- Example: Instead of asking, “Would you eat a product made with cricket flour,” you could ask, “What do you think of eating a product made with cricket flour?”
- Allow for flexibility in your questions, where answers can go in various directions.
- Keep from creating “leading” questions that encourage participants to answer in a way you want them to.
- Example: A question like, “Because cricket flour is more nutritious than other flour options, how likely are you to feed your children products that use cricket flour?” could lead the participants to want to sound healthier and more agreeable than they would naturally. A less leading question could be, “For an alternative to other flour options, how likely are you to feed your children products that use cricket flour?”
- Keep questions group-specific.
- For instance, if you have a focus group that involves parents with young children, don’t ask questions better suited for parents with teens.
Each group should be asked roughly ten or so questions, if that. You do not want to overload your participants with questions, especially since they are (or should be) discussion questions that elicit various responses and back-and-forth conversations between participants. During question creation, be sure you are not repeating yourself in your questions, and ensure they encourage a well-rounded discussion about the topic.
Step 5. Finalize Your Group Participants
As mentioned, the ideal number of focus group participants does not exceed ten people. Six to ten participants are preferred. There are a few ways you can select people to participate in your focus group, the two most common methods being:
- Allowing volunteers to sign up
- Inviting individuals to participate
Depending on your approach, you can boost the likelihood of gathering randomized samples, or you can ensure your sample groups are filled with people who match each group’s interest.
For instance, you are likely to assemble a more random selection of participants if you post a flyer to a board on a college campus or schedule a sponsored ad on social media platforms, especially if you do not specify the qualifications or characteristics you are looking for. You increase your ability to gather a sample that matches the specifics of a group’s interest through personal invitations.
In some cases, it is unavoidable that participants in the group know each other. Schools that want to understand perceptions of certain processes may gather focus groups that include students or teachers. In both groups, most participants will know each other. However, it is most beneficial if all participants do not know one another, as it helps diminish biased or influenced answers to your questions.
Step 6. Choose Your Moderators, Times, and Locations
Who should moderate?
If you are conducting a focus group where you don’t know the participants and the participants don’t know you or your role within the company, then you or your team can moderate the discussion. However, finding a third-party moderator who can lead the conversation without intentionally or unintentionally influencing responses or direction is ideal.
If participants know they are speaking with someone highly invested in the company or organization, they will likely hold back on opinions or perceptions. And, if heavily-invested individuals lead the focus group, there’s the risk of leading questions or leading the conversation in a particular direction, instead of letting it proceed organically.
A third-party moderator increases the probability of receiving responses with as little outside influence as possible.
In addition to the moderator who will lead the discussion, it is also essential to include one or two additional co-moderators who can observe responses, take notes, and serve as an extra pair of eyes and ears in the room.
When and where?
The right moderator can help you arrange times and locations to host your focus groups. When choosing a meeting time and date, be sure to give yourself and your participants enough time to have a thorough, detailed discussion about the topic at hand, often 90 minutes to two hours. Keep in mind that attention spans tend to peter out if the discussion lasts too long.
Focus groups are optimized when conducted in a quiet location with few distractions. A conference room or even an empty classroom is preferable to a room or area with a lot of foot traffic.
Step 7. Host Your Groups
So, you have assembled your participants, chosen your locations, set your dates, and scheduled the times. Now, you can host your discussions!
A third-party moderator is most likely trained to speak with large groups, making them feel at ease and prepared to discuss the subject. However, if you, a team member, or an inexperienced moderator plans to lead the discussion, you should keep a few tips in mind.
Tips for Moderating a Focus Group Discussion
- Bring refreshments like donuts and coffee.
- Start with an icebreaker or two to help relax nerves or ease participants into the discussion.
- No matter what is being said, keep your position in the room neutral. Don’t react too positively or negatively to responses.
- Show signs of active listening, but be careful with your body language—avoid raising eyebrows, shaking your head, or nodding.
- Allow the more dominant participants time to talk, but also give the less talkative participants space and encouragement to speak.
- With participants’ permission, record the conversation for notes and data collection.
- When the discussion is over, thank your participants and provide any participation incentives like gift cards or cash if offered.
Step 8. Analyze the Results
The last step in conducting a focus group is analyzing the data you set out to receive. Someone will need to transcribe the recording and clean up any handwritten notes. From there, you can identify patterns, recurring talking points, or themes in the responses.
Based on your analysis and review, you can create a report that can help shed light on the various areas of interest, the goals set in the beginning, and the next steps in your marketing or business plan.
How to Conduct a Focus Group – the Takeaways
Focus groups are an excellent way to dive into the minds of consumers or those who rely on your institution, organization, or entity. By conducting a series of well-planned, well-formulated discussions with willing participants, you can gather decent information and data to guide or redirect your marketing decisions.
- Focus groups offer the ability to take a peek into the minds of your chosen sample.
- One focus group should not be seen as a representation of your entire consumer base, but results from a single discussion can shed valuable light on specific concepts or topics.
- Focus groups are not about gathering quantitative data but are intended to reveal nuanced opinions and perceptions that your audience has about certain topics.
We’re your marketing experts and are available to talk through focus group strategies to help you gain valuable insights. We have prepared and moderated many focus groups for organizations and businesses across Middle Georgia as a productive step in each entity’s marketing or business journey.
Contact one of our business development managers to learn more about the benefits of focus groups today!
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