10 October 2022
Regardless of your industry, if you’re planning to launch or develop a new product, enter a new segment, or make changes organisation-wide, consider running a focus group to see how receptive your target audience will be. A focus group is a critical component of your extensive market research. It can provide crucial insights which otherwise you may not be able to gather from other research techniques.
To help you get started, we have curated a comprehensive guide about focus groups. The guide covers all crucial details and areas so you can develop a solid understanding of this research technique and implement it confidently.
Let’s get started, shall we?
A focus group is a controlled group discussion. This technique is used in qualitative research. The focus group size is small, including 6 to 10 people representing the research’s target market. The discussion is led by a moderator responsible for asking participants multiple questions about new products and services, either in the development phase or offered.
The moderator takes notes during the discussion while ensuring that there is no bias and the results are legitimate. Focus groups capitalise on the communication of the moderator with the participants to generate crucial insights. The responses of the focus group are qualitative, broad and open-ended.
The purpose of the group discussion is not to arrive at an agreement or consensus. It only seeks to provide information and understanding of the people’s opinions, reactions, responses, beliefs, and ideas on the point of discussion, which are used to enhance, create or change a service or product targeted to the audience.
The host carefully selects the participants in the focus group panel. The group includes a mix of potential and current customers. It is essential to choose the participants for the open discussion of research carefully for two reasons:
Once the group is finalised, particiapants discuss the research topic in a friendly and interactive setting. Participants are encouraged to share their thoughts freely. And through these discussions, you can:
✓ Generate ideas
✓ Gather meaningful insights about the market and target audience
✓ Explore and identify how people behave and think
✓ Understand audience perception about the brand, product or service
✓ Collect quality information for informed decision-making and high returns on investments
Here are the best practices to run a focus group successfully:
✓ Determine the Topic of Discussion and its Objectives
Before selecting and approaching participants to join the focus group, determine the discussion topics clearly. It is advisable to narrow your focus group discussion to one or a few topics, so the discussion doesn’t deviate. Once you have selected the subjects, write a detailed explanation of the objectives for participants.
For example, for a product launch, you can centre a focus group around the marketing of the product, its positioning and functionality.
✓ Choose Discussion Prompts and Questions
Once you have selected the topic (s) for discussion, create a detailed list of questions related to the topic. Make sure that the questions are aligned with your research objective so that you can collect crucial data that you need to make informed decisions.
When writing down the questions, start with crucial questions and ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions will help you generate a healthy conversation between participants and increase the research’s effectiveness.
For example, if the focus group research is about a product launch, you can ask questions such as:
✓ Recruit Participants
To get the best results from your focus group, you must select the right people and ensure they show up for the discussion. Here are some of the best ways to find the right participants for your focus group:
This strategy will likely work if your company has a solid customer base. You can connect with them via email or phone. As existing customers will most likely use the new product first, it is the perfect opportunity for you to gauge their reactions before the official launch.
On the other hand, for incentives, you can offer discounted or free products or reward them so that they show interest in participating in your focus group.
You can also find and select participants by advertising on social media. Social media platforms now offer advanced geo-fencing and targeting options making it easier for you to target a focus group audience.
Another way to attract and find the right focus group participants is to focus on location-based advertising methods like:
No matter what method you choose to attract, participants make sure to offer incentives. Highlight the incentives in the ad, like cash, discounts, or gift cards.
✓ Schedule the Discussion Venue, Time and Duration
Ensure to inform the focus group panel about the venue where the discussion will be held, the time, and the duration. The details should be communicated in advance so the participants can ensure their availability and not miss the discussion, which can negatively impact the results otherwise.
✓ Provide Informational Brochure
One of the focus group best practices also includes creating a detailed brochure including the agenda of the meeting, objectives, and discussion rules. This helps:
✓ Select Moderator Wisely
Invest time in finding the right moderator for your focus group. Therefore, when choosing the moderator, make sure they have the following qualities:
There are many types of focus groups. Your selection of the focus group type largely depends on your research needs. The most popular types of focus groups are:
✓ 2 Way Focus Groups
As the name suggests, it has two focus groups. Each group has a separate moderator. The first group discusses the topic while the other group observes their discussion. Once the first group’s discussion ends, the second group uses the insights from the first discussion to dig deeper and provide a better perspective.
✓ Dual Moderator Focus Group
Two moderators lead this type of focus group. The first moderator of the group is responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of the session and that all participants engage in the discussion. The second moderator must ensure that all questions are discussed and answered.
The dual moderator focus group is an ideal choice when:
Under these circumstances, it can be difficult for a single moderator to manage and ensure result accuracy. Therefore, another moderator is needed. In other words, with two moderators, it is easier to proceed as planned and manage the discussion, ensuring more productive sessions.
✓ Dueling Moderator Focus Group
The duelling moderator is a popular type of focus group in marketing. In this focus group type, two moderators voluntarily take positions on the opposing sides. This strategy ensures that the participants interact more with each other and present different viewpoints. The duelling moderator focus group’s purpose is also to challenge how participants think and confront their opinions. The discussion helps generate better and new ideas- precisely what the host requires.
The duelling moderator focus group is a good choice when you have two business models or ideas and want to determine which resonates better with people and should be implemented.
✓ Respondent Moderator
Also known as the participant-moderated focus group, in this type of focus group, the participants take the role of the moderator for a given period. Several participants in the discussion can take turns and become moderators. The purpose of the respondent moderator focus group is to reduce unintentional bias, which can otherwise result when you have a single moderator. As respondents take turns, it varies their responses and interactions and encourages the expression of different perspectives and aspects.
✓ Online Focus Group
Another focus group research method is the online focus group. This type of focus group has gained massive popularity post-pandemic as many companies adopt the remote work culture. It employs online mediums to collect participant feedback and opinions. The online focus group panel include three categories of people- observer, respondent, and moderator.
The two popular online/remote focus group methods are:
It is conducted via online tools like Skype, Zoom and Team. This online focus group method is considered the closest to the conventional focus group methodology.
It is carried out on the phone. As participants are on the phone, their identity remains anonymous, which has two benefits:
✓ Creativity Focus Group
This focus group aims to develop an idea and work on it to lead to creation. Several respondents participate in the discussion. The moderator’s role is to ensure that all participants share their thoughts and that everything runs smoothly from brainstorming to creation.
This focus group method is preferable when you want to generate an idea for a service or product or refine the one you already have.
Once you have selected the topic of discussion, participants and the moderator for the focus group, follow these steps to stay on track and ensure the best outcomes:
First, welcome everyone, and appreciate them for taking their valuable time out to participate in your focus group discussion. This step is essential for building a rapport with the participants.
Also, have the participants introduce themselves so that it is easier for them to settle down. It also helps break the ice-much needed to participate in the discussion freely without hesitation.
Make sure to clarify the ground rules before you start asking questions. This step is crucial for multiple reasons, such as
✓ Set boundaries so the participants know how to react and behave if the topic becomes controversial.
✓ Affirming the participants that their identities will not be shared in case the moderator asks for information that is not usually shared in a group setting
Start the group discussion on time and make sure to record the session. The focus group discussion can be recorded in a video or audio, whichever mode the participants are comfortable with. Moreover, before you start recording the session, make sure to inform the participants and get their consent.
The next step is to ask questions from the participants methodically. Following a framework of questions is essential to maintain the conversation’s flow and ensure that nothing important is missed during the session. Here are some best tips to develop questions for your focus group session:
✓ Identify the number of questions you will have to ask to fill the meeting’s duration
✓ Start with the most crucial questions and end with the least important ones
✓ Generate deep-dive questions such as how, what, and why
✓ Keep open-ended questions
✓ Avoid close-ended questions
✓ Ask questions in a way that they don’t lead the respondents to specific answers
Once the session ends, generate a report with crucial findings and recommendations. Share this report with the leaders, decision-makers and stakeholders. Remember that a well-devised focus group discussion report can help design quality and actionable plans for improved products and services.
To create a comprehensive report, take time to analyse data. Some best tips for data analysis are:
✓ Review session minutes in detail
✓ Make sure to identify patterns in the responses generated
✓ Identify reasons for agreement and disagreement
Furthermore, when writing a formal report, make sure it includes the following:
✓ Key findings
Now that we know what a focus group is and how to run it, let us look at the advantages and disadvantages of a focus group.
Here are some of the focus group benefits:
✓ Measure Customer Reactions and Responses Easily
A focus group can help you assess and measure the response and reaction of customers immediately to your new product, service or corporate strategy. Moreover, the participants can also provide you with immediate ideas that you can use to improve your product or service before it rolls out and is publicly available.
Moreover, the reactions and responses of customers can also help you identify user requirements for your products while discovering their pain points.
Put simply, a focus group can provide you with valuable insights into the current position of your products compared to your competition while helping you measure reactions to design, price, and packaging.
✓ Confirm Insights Gained Through Other Methodologies
As qualitative research can provide you with a large amount of data, sometimes you may feel that the information lacks authenticity and transparency. Here, focus group research may help. When results from other methodologies seem questionable, you can use a focus group to confirm the authenticity of the insights gained.
Once the responses from the participants of the focus group get catalogued, you can continue your pursuit of a new product or service or make changes as needed to address the pain points.
✓ Create a Strong Connection with Customers
Another benefit of focus group research is that it brings potential and existing consumers together on one platform to discuss a product concept or an idea. These are the people who will eventually buy the products being presented in the focus group meeting.
Hence, prospects and customers feel empowered and heard when asked to participate in focus groups for a potential product. This builds a strong connection between customers and the product, eventually leading to an emotional attachment and increasing brand loyalty that later converts into sales once the product reaches the market.
✓ Cost-Efficient Way to Collect Insights
For businesses with tight budgets, focus groups can be a helpful research technique to generate quality insights cost-efficiently.
A simple setup with a small group of people from your target audience can help you develop a reasonable market understanding of a new product or service you want to launch in the future. You don’t have to invest heavily and survey a large audience to collect insights.
Moreover, you can also host focus groups online via video conferencing and teleconferencing tools. These tools don’t cost much, but they can give you the information you need to make better decisions. By conducting online focus groups, you can hold more focus group sessions, engage and interact with global consumers, hold more conversations and get better insights- all without putting a dent in your pocket.
A focus group may be a small representation of your target audience. Still, it can provide you with quality insights to address potential pain points and present your new offering with higher chances of success.
✓ Save Time to Market
The condensed nature of focus groups helps solicit feedback and opinions on different aspects of a product fast. It spares you from the time-intensive process of requesting interviews individually. Do you know what that means? You can save much time on the product development research phase. Hence, you can expedite the product’s journey to the market. Introducing your new products or service with reduced time to market can give you an edge over competitors who may be trying to capture the same market.
✓ Contradict or Expand the Initial Concept
Unlike other qualitative research techniques, focus groups have a unique way of generating information. The process focuses on asking questions, where the discussions build on the participants’ answers. For example, each participant provides their opinion or perspective on a specific question. Then, the answers and experiences of participants are used to contradict or expand the topic and work on the concept, offering or idea in the discussion. It provides ample information you can use to bring your concept/idea to the market.
✓ Ensure Anonymity of the Participants for Research Transparency
Although the participants share their personally identifiable data when signing up for a focus group session, people receive a certain level of anonymity during the session. Participants can introduce themselves and disclose only the information they want about themselves to others. So participants don’t have to share all their details with other participants.
Furthermore, as participants can maintain a certain level of anonymity, it makes them feel more comfortable during the session, and they can answer questions honestly, even about sensitive and controversial topics. After the session, you can use transparent responses to make changes and ensure your offering is well-received by your target audience.
✓ Yield High Quality of Data
The quality of data generated from research methodologies can make all the difference. Through questionnaires and surveys are popular research techniques for generating information, focus groups remain a preferred choice. It is because surveys provide complex data that is difficult for researchers to evaluate and interpret, which can further impact the conclusion and recommendations.
On the other hand, focus groups yield high-quality data which is reliable and more transparent. It provides better brainstorming opportunities for participants. As the process is more interactive, it leads to better data extraction and richer participant feedback. Furthermore, access to quality feedback enables researchers to speed up the process of the product development cycle.
✓ Flexible and Adaptable
Another key benefit of the focus group research method is its flexibility. It can adapt to the opinions and needs of participants. The moderator ensures the flow of the conversation is smooth, progressive, and light making all participants feel comfortable. In a secure and comfortable setting, it is easier to conduct discussions and ensure everyone provides their genuine opinion and feedback.
So, it becomes easier for researchers to understand their audience’s perceptions and true feelings in a shorter period. They can collect more information about consumer attitudes, perceptions, and experiences, which they can leverage for better decision-making.
Some disadvantages of focus groups are:
✓ Limited Amount of Time
As focus groups are only one or two hours long, it is often difficult for participants to provide a detailed explanation of their opinions. Participants have less speaking time in a focus group than in interviews. And because of time constraints, participants rush through their answers which can further impact the findings and results of the session.
✓ Moderator Bias
As moderators lead focus groups, some researchers believe the frequent interference of moderators in the discussion can negatively impact the session results. Moderators may inadvertently or intentionally inject personal biases into the participants’ minds, influencing their ideas and perceptions. Such actions can lead to inaccurate session findings. Besides this, moderators can guide participants into making certain conclusions or assumptions about the topic in discussion, product or idea. And sometimes, because of the fear of being criticised or judged by the moderator and other people in the room, some participants may not share their honest opinions.
However, to avoid moderator bias, they must:
✓ Some Participants Can dominate Sessions
Another disadvantage of a focus group session is that sometimes the sessions can be dominated by one or some participants. These people are usually more opinionated and have extroverted personalities. In such a situation, the tendency to build upon the concept cripples because the session then centres on the contribution of the dominating individuals. It further means the information quality and findings generated from the research session may not be accurate or have the desired levels of validity.
Hence, when one voice dominates the session, the results are likely to be imperfect at best and costly for the company, especially if the product goes to market with inaccurate information backing it up. Most people will agree with dominant individuals, even if their opinions and views differ, so you may not get the honest and personalised opinions you need about a product or concept.
But that’s not a big problem! The good news is that you can easily manage this issue and increase the accuracy of your findings. Here, the moderator should step up and ensure that all participants have equal opportunities to interact and voice their opinions. The moderator should encourage and motivate everyone present in the room to talk. This way, you can ensure that some individuals do not dominate the session.
✓ Lack of Interest
Indeed finding the right people to participate in your focus group is a challenge. However, what’s even more challenging is ensuring the selected individuals stay engaged and motivated throughout the session. As several topics and concepts have to be discussed during a two-hour session, it is easy to lose interest at some point. A lack of interest from participants can also negatively influence the session results. Therefore, the moderator must keep the sessions engaging. Some of the best ways to stir engagement and excitement among participants are:
The moderator should focus on the quality of the questions. Moreover, they should be skilled in following up on unexpected answers and developing interest in participants who seem disengaged. This combination can keep everyone in the room hooked and involved while giving you the perfect opportunity to glean insights from the targeted demographic. The insights are needed to speed the product development cycle and ensure it is well-received by the broader audience and deliver impressive ROIs.
Focus groups are mostly included in research marketing plans when researchers want to:
Whether your focus group qualitative research aims to understand consumer behaviour and response to your new product or determine how your brands compete with others, it is essential to create quality, open-ended and thought-provoking questions. Remember that the quality and structure of your questions can ensure a productive session and provide you with crucial insights.
Simply stated, the questions for the focus group should intrigue participants and prompt them to answer. Therefore, to ensure increased participation, you must dive deep into the consumer minds and curate questions that go deeper than ‘what do you think about the product’? The questions you ask can provoke more fruitful and informational answers- precisely what you need to develop a strong market understanding and make informed decisions.
So, if you want to use a focus group in marketing research, invest time creating the right questions for the best response and generating accurate results. Here are some of the best tips to help you get started:
✓ Keep the Tone Conversational
The tone of your questions should be friendly, polite and conversational. Tone will help build an instant connection with participants, making them more comfortable answering the questions.
✓ Avoid Difficult Terminologies and Vague Wordings
Another great tip is to keep things simple. Make sure the questions are clear, straightforward and easy to interpret. Avoid complex terminologies and vague wordings to make it easier for participants to understand and answer questions correctly. Complex wording and language can confuse participants.
✓ Keep Questions Open-Ended
Suppose you want to start a fruitful conversation among participants and get the maximum amount of information. In that case, keeping your questions for the focus group open-ended is advisable. Therefore, avoid close-ended questions with “yes” and “no” replies, as participants can answer in one word without elaboration. For example:
If you are conducting a focus group related to product issues, don’t ask a question like “did you experience a problem with the product?” Consider restructuring the question and ask, “What problems did you experience with our product?”
This way, you can encourage the focus group panel to share their personal experiences in detail.
✓ Don’t Embarrass the Participants
When conducting a focus group, you want participants to answer questions honestly and with sheer transparency- no bias. However, if questions are threatening or embarrassing, your participants may not answer them. Therefore, avoid questions that are embarrassing and can spark controversies.
5 Categories of Focus Group Questions
Let’s look at the different focus group question categories to find out how you can make your sessions engaging and interactive for all:
1. Engagement Questions
The engagement questions are mostly asked in the beginning to get participants hooked and stir excitement about the topic of discussion. These questions make participants comfortable in the group setting and get involved.
Some engagement focus group example questions are:
2. Exploration Questions
Once you set the tone and establish the topic (s) of discussion, it is time to ask exploration questions. These questions help researchers get detailed answers and quality insights. Hence, most of the questions in a focus group are from the exploration category.
Here are some examples of exploration questions:
3. Follow-Up Questions
After the exploration questions, researchers focus on follow-up questions. After developing a solid understanding of the group, their feelings and views, these questions are asked. Once you collect specific insights, you can dig deeper for more comprehensive information with follow-up questions, for example:
4. Probe Questions
These questions are also helpful for information collection and are asked to elaborate the discussion of the primary questions. Probe questions examples are:
5. Exit Questions
As the name suggests, these questions are asked last. The moderator revisits specific topics to collect vital data. The purpose of these questions is to wrap up the session while ensuring that everything essential is covered. Some examples of exit questions are:
Follow these steps to create a practical list of focus group questions for your upcoming session to get the best results:
✓ Determine Project Goals
First, discuss the project with stakeholders to determine its goals and the information they need to achieve targeted goals.
✓ Be Clear About What Information You Have and Need
As the focus group duration is short, it is important to ensure you don’t ask redundant or unnecessary questions. Therefore, be clear on what information you can collect from other research methods and what information you can only collect from focus groups. This way, you can curate the list of the best questions to ask during the session and collect quality insights aligned with your targeted goals.
Brainstorm to curate a list of preliminary questions. Make sure to select questions from all five categories discussed earlier. Share the questions list with stakeholders so they can identify anything missing or that needs adjustment.
✓ Refine the List
Once you have a green signal, refine the list cutting it down to around 8 to 12 questions. You can also combine similar questions.
When it comes to market research, companies use a combination of data collection methodologies to extract quality insights and generate critical findings. Some of the most popular methods include focus groups, surveys and interviews.
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, a focus group comprises a small group of participants that are representative of a large audience. The session discusses concepts or ideas and generates detailed and meaningful insights. Likewise, a survey is a research methodology that uses a questionnaire to collect customer information. It is a quantitative technique used to quantify data collection and is focused on testing a concept rather than generating ideas and developing them.
Interviews are similar to focus groups, but they are more time-consuming as the interview is conducted with each individual separately. Here’s a chart to help you develop a better understanding of these data collection methodologies:
|Qualitative data||Mostly quantitative data||Mostly qualitative data|
|Open-ended questions||Mostly closed-ended questions||Mostly open-ended questions|
|A few people at a time||Reaches large groups of people at one time||One person at a time|
|Conducted in person||Respondents can take the survey independently (no moderator or interviewer)||Conducted by an interviewer|
In conclusion, a focus group in marketing research is suitable if you want to collect in-depth information and insights about customers, market opportunities, or a concept you want to implement. The research methodology focuses on asking open-ended questions, which enable you to prompt participants to answer in detail and gather insights for informed decision-making. However, this strategy can be combined with other qualitative and quantitative methodologies for the best outcomes.
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