If you’re planning to conduct a focus group (or better yet, a series of focus groups), it’s because you want to hear your various audiences, in their own words, provide honest, detailed, opinionated feedback about your company’s products, services, or brand perceptions.
On the surface, focus groups seem like an easy project to complete – all you have to do is gather a few people together, get them talking about your company and offerings (or whatever subject you want them to talk about), record the information, and use your findings toward future research and development or marketing strategies. Right?
Again, on the surface, that is correct. But to get the most out of your focus groups, you need a well-planned, highly strategic approach throughout the process. Without solid planning, you may not extract helpful or high-quality information, defeating the purpose of your groups.
To help you avoid common focus group mistakes, we’re listing them here so you can know what *not* to do.
Mistake #1: Undefined or Vague Research Objectives
You may wonder how it’s possible to conduct a research-based project like a focus group without first defining the objectives. And you may be surprised to learn that it is a common mistake companies make.
Let’s say a financial company’s new-client numbers have been dropping, and the leaders want to know more about the community’s opinions regarding their services. They believe a few focus groups can help shed some light on why fewer people are choosing their company for investment and money management. They want to interview long-time clients, new clients, and competitors’ clients. And that’s where their research objective identifications stop.
The company could go deeper and get more detailed with its objectives. For instance, they could specify that they want to know precisely what is or is not working with their marketing efforts and evaluate whether their current marketing strategies are helping or hurting their numbers. But they keep objectives vague by sticking to the objective of “We want to know what the community thinks of us.”
Too much ambiguity leaves too much wiggle room within the project. As a result, you could struggle to reach your end goals or gain results that could ultimately drive positive decisions moving forward.
Mistake #2: Gathering the Wrong Participants
Some of the most essential parts of the focus group—arguably the most important parts—are the participants. After all, you can’t have a focus group without the group.
But if you don’t plan adequately, it can be easy to gather the wrong people for the discussion. The people you will be speaking with need to fit certain criteria to ensure the feedback they can provide is the kind of feedback you want from that particular set of participants.
When determining who to reach out to for a particular focus group, create distinct criteria that the participants need to meet so that you can select only those who will add to the discussion. It can be helpful to design a participant persona and create your criteria around it. Consider ideal demographics, consumer behaviors, and other aspects to find the most qualified or persona-matching individuals. But don’t get hung up on finding 8-10 perfect matches. While that would be nice, that’s not always realistic. People who match 70% or so of your created persona can still offer beneficial and relevant opinions.
And speaking of 8-10 participants, you want to gather the right number of people to speak with. If there are too many people in the group, your discussion will be unmanageable and overwhelming. If there are too few, your results can be narrowed, leaving you wishing you had spoken with more people. 8-10 is recommended as it offers enough voices for a high-quality and manageable discussion.
Mistake #3: Not Creating Strong, Strategic Questions or a Discussion Guide
For some who have the gift of gab, it can be easy to feel as if their people skills are enough to bypass the discussion prep and dive right into the convo. However, thinking through a discussion guide, creating insightful questions, and tactically approaching the conversation is far more effective than going in with a general idea of what to discuss and winging it.
Even if you have to change course in the discussion and change up a question or two mid-convo, you are more likely to ask good questions and extract richer details after strong preparation than if you don’t prepare questions or a guide.
Mistake #4: Biased Moderating
Your moderator can make or break your focus group depending on how they conduct the meeting(s).
Moderator selection is an underrated aspect of focus group planning because your moderator is the one guiding the discussion and pulling information from your participants. Whoever leads the discussion should be able to remain balanced and carefully push the conversation forward without veering off track or losing sight of the goals set before the meeting.
Without the right skill sets and personality, your moderator could make participants feel discouraged from or unsure about speaking up or being honest in their responses.
Skills a quality moderator should possess:
- Unbiased leadership: Guiding the discussion without skewing the discussion in certain directions or manipulating participants to provide desired feedback is crucial for an effective focus group.
- Preceptive observations: The moderator should be able to do more than extract good feedback from your participants; they also need to evaluate who is providing the feedback and encourage the quieter ones to speak up so that all voices are heard and thoughts are given. Many focus groups feature one or two participants who dominate the discussion, but strong observation and adaptation will ensure you receive more rounded and diverse responses.
- Insightful guidance: When people talk, it can be a disservice to cut them off and steer the conversation somewhere else. But, in some instances, it’s necessary. A skilled moderator can feel out the discussion and sit back and let people talk or step in as needed. It takes insight and a keen ability to successfully connect to the conversation to guide discussions in this way.
Mistake #5: Biased Results Analysis
You’ve spoken with all your groups, gathered all the feedback, and are ready to analyze the data. A huge mistake at this point is to go into the analysis process with bias.
It is too easy to analyze the data and only see the results you had hoped or expected to see. For instance, let’s say that one of your hopes was to confirm that audiences are pleased with your website’s current design and flow. And let’s say you conducted three different focus groups where that conversation came up. One or two in each group said they liked the design and thought the flow of it was just fine. Everyone else did not find it helpful or user-friendly. It can be detrimental to only put stock into the feedback from those who liked your site just because it confirms what you wanted to hear.
By objectively analyzing the data, you can walk away from the project with a clearer understanding of audience perceptions, which can better guide your next steps.
It’s also important not to get too granular in the analysis. Focus groups are meant to look at opinions and perceptions on the whole. If a person or two has a particular opinion that the majority of the group does not share, you will do yourself a disservice to focus on the nitty-gritty of their feedback and not consider the whole picture.
M&R has conducted many focus groups, helping clients extract vital, informative feedback; rethink strategies; and create changes that have positively impacted their marketing plans. Our focus group process includes thoughtful planning, question creation, moderating, and result analysis to ensure your results are thorough and unbiased.
Contact one of our business development managers to learn more about the benefits of focus groups today!
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