This article introduces focus groups along with their value and is step 1 of 6 for our series on preparing and running a focus group.
The world of marketing is ever-changing and evolving. There are many aspects that go into developing a new product or service including demand and what type of audience will be most interested and receptive to that product or service. So, how does a business know if they should pursue a specific product? How can a company keep up with the shifting needs of consumers? How do we get quality feedback to understand if there are required changes to the services we are providing? Focus groups are one of the best ways to answer these questions! While surveys are a quantitative method of receiving answers to questions a company has for their consumers, focus groups provide qualitative research that provides organisations with distinct and refined feedback from a represented segment of their target audience.
In this 1st step of our series on focus groups, we will explain what exactly a focus group is, along with their value. We will also provide 4 steps involved in choosing the reason for a focus group and the target audience for the participants, as well as tips on scheduling the event and choosing the facilitator and notetaker.
What is a Focus Group?
Focus groups are a small group of people, 6-10 ideally, who have volunteered to answer questions and provide feedback in a group setting led by a facilitator. The facilitator or moderator is a trained individual who asks the questions, guides discussion, and prompts feedback. The focus group participants are meant to be a representative sample of the company’s target audience and are considered a key component of modern market research.
What is the Value in Focus Group Research?
The main value in focus groups is the capability of evoking complex responses from participants. Rather than questions in a survey that provide written answers or close-ended yes or no questions, focus groups provide discussion on open-ended questions that include responses with body language and tone of voice. Focus groups are considered one of the tried-and-true methods for gathering qualitative research. For example, rather than getting a numeric response from a survey on how much a target demographic likes a product, you can ask open-ended questions about what the participant specifically likes and dislikes about the product.
Step 1.1 – Choose the Topic of Discussion
A focus group should be just that – focused! The first step is choosing a topic to discuss. This should answer the questions of “what is the purpose of the focus group?” or “what feedback or results are we aiming to get from the focus group?” It is important to note that you may need to run separate sessions on different focuses to gather the research required. The topic could include, for example, the marketing and brand position of a new product/service, or the functionality and usability of a product. It’s not recommended to combine both of those topics in one focus group session, as that would not be a targeted topic and therefore would not be focused enough.
Step 1.2 – Choose the Target Audience
Similar to the previous step, the target audience that is chosen is recommended to have a narrow definition. Broad categories such as “car owners” or “baby-boomers” are unlikely to yield the valuable and qualitative results you are looking for in a focus group. A more precise target could be a description such as “men between the ages of 30-40 who live in urban cities and drive to work.” The target audience description for the participants will vary depending on the purpose of the focus group.
It may also be necessary to hold various focus groups with different demographics to get the feedback required depending on the research being conducted. It is a good reminder that more focus group sessions mean a larger pool of people to provide opinions and feedback, which means more information and potential insights. For example, if research is being conducted regarding vacuums, there will be quite a variation in answers from people that are 18-30 vs. 30-45. A great question to ask is “what demographic of people will provide the best opinions and feedback for the research we are conducting?”
Step 1.3 – Schedule the Event
To schedule the focus group, it is important to choose a date, time, and location. For the date and time, make sure to choose something far enough in advance to allow time to prepare the questions for the focus group, schedule the location, and recruit the participants. Reading through all the steps of this process will help in giving a better idea of how much time may be required to prepare and recruit the participants for the focus group. The duration of the session will also need to be considered when scheduling the event. The ideal duration is considered to be between 60-90 minutes.
As for the location, it is recommended to choose a venue that is comfortable and allows the participants to open up. Privacy will be one of the factors that helps with comfortability. It is also recommended to choose a location that is easy to find and access, as location alone could deter participants from showing up for the focus group. It is important to note that it is not usually suggested for a company to host the event in their own office, to avoid potential judgements or biases.
Step 1.4 – Schedule a Facilitator and Notetaker
The final part of Step 1 is choosing someone to run the focus group as well as someone to take notes and record the discussion. There may be people who are able to do this within the company, however it may be required to hire another professional who is familiar with running focus groups.
Having someone external may also offer value as they have an unbiased view of the topic of discussion. Here are some good qualities for a facilitator, also called a moderator:
- Adequate knowledge of the topic
- Good discipline in listening
- Familiar with asking open-ended questions
- Can exercise mild and unobtrusive control over a group
- Creates a warm and friendly environment
- Asks probing questions such as “would you explain further?” or “would you give an example?”
- Avoids directing to desired responses
As for the notetaker, it is essential to choose someone who will be able to take valuable notes that will fully encompass the results of the focus group. Here are sought after qualities in a notetaker:
- Takes careful notes
- Can monitor/use recording equipment, audio and video
- Handles logistics
- Observes body language and tone of voice
Focusing Market Research
The above 4 steps will help a considerable amount when confirming the details of a focus group. Before starting to recruit the participants, it is important to ensure that the focus group has an appropriate topic that is narrow enough for the research being conducted, as well as the target audience for the participants. When considering the topic of discussion and target audience for a focus group, a great question to ask is “will this focus our market research?” Next up in this series is Step 2 – Preparing for the Focus Group.
Download this resource article Focus Groups: Part 1 – Reason for Focus Group and Target Audience.