The focus group has been a tried-and-true marketing tool for companies and organizations for decades. Centered around thorough discussions, focus groups provide relevant consumers and audiences the opportunity to give their unique insights and perspectives about whatever topics are at hand during the conversation. They also provide business leaders or marketing directors insight into how their audience views their products, services, or brand so they can make better, more effective business or marketing decisions.
What Is a Focus Group?
A focus group in its most effective form is a small number of selected participants (about ten participants on average) who are brought together to:
- Discuss numerous angles of a particular topic or set of topics
- Serve as representatives of their larger target population
The reasons a company or organization may want to conduct a focus group or series of groups can vary greatly, but the core intent of each is generally the same: focus groups provide researchers thorough insight into the perspectives and opinions of their current customers, target audiences, team members, or whoever else they want to gather qualitative information from.
Focus groups allow marketing directors, company leaders, or any other interested department within a business or organization the chance to tap into the minds of their targeted demographic and receive a range of qualitative information to help guide decisions that will affect overall growth.
Who Is Involved in a Focus Group?
At the core, focus groups consist of the participants and the moderator/research team.
Ideally, you want to choose six to ten participants who can best speak to the topics or interests. For instance, through a series of focus groups, you can bring together:
- Current customers
- Perspective customers
- Current employees
- Former employees
- Executive team members
Whatever your topics of interest are, your participants should be able to provide relevant insights into each one. You can even get hyper-specific with your groups, selecting individuals who fall within specific age ranges, live in specified locations, have particular consumer behaviors, etc.
It is essential to avoid too much similarity within each group, though. While your participants should share certain psychographics, demographics, or geographics, you also want to gather participants who can offer varied and unique perspectives within their group. Interviewing groups with variety helps ensure you’ll receive nuanced, detailed, and natural feedback about the topics you are curious about.
The Moderator and Co-Moderator(s)
When conducting a focus group, there should only be one person leading and guiding the discussion, ideally a third-party moderator who conducts the group(s) without bias or influence on responses.
If you are conducting a focus group where you don’t know the participants and the participants don’t know you or your team, you or someone with your company could lead the discussion. However, finding a third-party moderator who can moderate 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 could hold back on genuine opinions or perceptions. And, if heavily invested individuals lead the focus group, there’s the risk of leading the questions or 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 essential to include one or two co-moderators who can observe responses, take notes, and serve as an extra pair of eyes and ears in the room.
What Are Some Examples of Why an Organization May Want to Conduct a Focus Group?
There are myriad reasons a team may want to conduct focus groups for their business or organization. These are just a few of the possible scenarios or circumstances:
- A cleaning supply company wants to expand its product line and needs strong insight into how the current products serve its customer base. The goal is to discover the positives and negatives of the current products, as well as any pain points that may still exist for their consumers. Responses can help guide product development and marketing for the new products created.
- A university has seen a decline in applications and increased faculty turnover in recent years. To help improve their image with prospective students and help improve professor retention, they can conduct a series of focus groups with current students, prospective students, alumni, current faculty, former faculty, and other related groups to gain the insights needed to improve their marketing and internal processes.
- A nonprofit that helps underprivileged children in their community wants a deeper understanding of how their programs benefit the people they serve. They can conduct focus groups with current participants, former participants, family members, and other related groups to determine if there is room for improvement with their programs, processes, or other areas within the organization.
- A healthcare facility’s reputation is on the decline within its community. The administration wants to understand why the facility’s reputation has dropped so the team can make informed decisions that will raise it again. Administration can conduct focus groups with former patients, current or former employees, family members of current or former patients, and other leaders in the area’s medical community to gain the insights needed to guide their next steps to improve their standing.
What Are the Steps to Conducting a Focus Group?
To conduct an effective, successful focus group, it’s crucial to plan and execute each one properly. The best way to achieve that is by following these eight steps:
1. Define Your 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.
2. Determine Your Research Scope
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.
3. Choose Your Group(s) 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.
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. 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.
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 lead to more thoughtful answers and stronger feedback, while poorly planned questions can leave you wanting more information from your group.
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 conversations between participants. During question creation, be sure you are not repeating yourself in your questions, and ensure each one encourages a well-rounded discussion about the topic.
5. Finalize Your Group Participants
As mentioned, the ideal number of focus group participants should 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.
6. Choose Your Moderator, Times, and Locations
As mentioned, 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, 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.
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. Remember 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 empty classroom is preferable to a room or area with much foot traffic.
7. Host the Groups
Once you have assembled your participants, chosen your locations, set your dates, and scheduled the times, it’s time to 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. When hosting, a few key factors the moderator should keep in mind are:
- Keep their position in the room neutral, and do not react too positively or negatively to responses.
- Show signs of active listening but remain careful with their body language—moderators should avoid raising eyebrows, shaking their heads, or nodding too much.
- Allow the more dominant participants time to talk, but also give the less talkative participants space and encouragement to speak.
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.
For more details, check out our 8-Step Guide for Conducting a Focus Group.
What Are the Benefits of Conducting a Focus Group?
Because focus groups uncover hard-to-obtain insight from consumers, customers, or clients, they provide data that is often nuanced but richer and more valuable than what quantitative methods of market research can produce. (Quantitative methods can include surveys or experiments).
As a result, focus groups deliver several advantages to your research or marketing team that help shape your business or marketing plans, strategies, and tactics in the future.
The most significant benefits of conducting focus groups include:
- Insight – A strong, dynamic, well-crafted group of participants is highly likely to provide unique perceptions and opinions that reveal information you could not gather from methods like surveys, experiments, or individual interviews.
- Flexibility – The nature of focus groups is such that researchers can lean into the discussion format to explore themes or ideas they did not anticipate discussing during planning. While moderators will have prepared questions or talking points to present to participants, the participants will likely bring up topics or points of view that are unexpected but helpful to explore.
- Fast Results – Focus group participants provide immediate data, from their words to their body language and emotional reactions to questions or prompts. The team conducting your focus groups, including the moderator and group observers, receive real-time feedback and insights. Plus, if there is uncertainty or confusion with the information participants provide, the moderator can dig deeper with follow-up questions or prompts to gain a better, fuller data set—no secondary meetings are necessary.
- Improvement Opportunities – Vital focus group planning should incorporate well-formulated questions and prompts designed to see if improvements are needed for your brand image, products, services, etc. Focus groups should not be treated as a way to extract only positive feedback from participants, nor should they center around only the good things about your company, brand, products, or services. While participants may offer flattering, positive feedback about who you are and what you do on their own, these groups aim to gain deeper, honest insights, including negative perceptions or opinions. With the right questions or prompts, it’s possible to receive improvement-based feedback on things you never considered or areas you never realized needed attention.
Our in-house marketing pros have conducted focus groups for various businesses and organizations, and we’ll be glad to help you plan your groups, conduct your discussions, and evaluate the data provided by each conversation. Whether you’re interested in improving brand recognition or perception among your consumers, gaining insight into how customers respond to your products or services, or understanding additional information from your audience, you can benefit from comprehensive focus group services from M&R Marketing.
Contact one of our business development managers to learn more about the benefits of focus groups today!
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