A Beginner’s Guide to Focus Groups

Tips for Focus Groups

1) What is a focus group?

Focus groups are a dynamic research process and can be a powerful marketing tool. Generally, 6 to 10 people are brought together with a facilitator to discuss predetermined questions or topics relating to a product, service, belief, idea, or prospective policy. These groups can be held in person, online, or by teleconferencing.

2) Why conduct a focus group over other research methods?

Focus groups are an excellent way to discover the attitudes of customers, prospects and other target groups on a wide variety of topics as well as helping get to the real issues and get a thorough understanding of what your customers think. One of the primary benefits of conducting a focus group is that it can directly involve the clients, who can observe the proceedings from behind a one-way mirror. As a result, the findings from the research have more credibility with the client.

The focus group environment also allows for a moderator to show stimuli to the participants – such as new products, advertising ideas, promotional concepts, or new packaging – which yields first-hand, spontaneous reactions from the respondents that reveal their attitudes toward the topic.

Another advantage of focus groups is that they enable a trained moderator to utilize the dynamics of the group to discuss topics in depth and allow the views of all the participants to be considered. This interaction among the people in the group is one of the most valuable parts of the process.

Further, the nature of the questioning can change to reflect the knowledge acquired from group to group, enabling the moderator to maximize their learning from the research process.

At a Glance – reasons to run a focus group:

• To identify trends in buying patterns
• To get reactions to new products movies, books, fashions, political speeches, laws, or policies
• To identify a needed product or service
• To see a customer reaction to a product or service
• To test a marketing strategy (direction for an ad campaign, etc.)

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3) What size should my focus group be?

There is no right answer to this question. However, many moderators hold a very strong point of view that 8 to 10 people is the ideal number. It is felt that if a group is larger than 10, then there are too many people to control and it is difficult to get meaningful interaction among the participants. If the group is smaller than 8, the opportunity for varied inputs is reduced.

Some people prefer to conduct mini-groups with 3 to 6 people, as they believe the smaller number of participants will provide for greater in-depth discussion. On this issue, opinions among market researchers and moderators vary.

4) How many focus groups should I do?

There is no single correct answer. The average focus group in the UK project consists of 4 to 6 groups – this will vary in other market such as the United States as there are so many regions to over. Some smaller UK projects will hold only 2 or 3 groups, and larger projects can have as many as 10 to 15 groups. The decision is generally based on one or more of the following criteria:

• The budget available for conducting the research
• The number of different constituency groups that need to be included in the research
• The number of geographic areas that need to be covered
• Is it a representative sample? For example, if you are looking for

5) Where should I hold my focus group?

In most situations, focus groups are conducted in special facilities that contain a one-way mirror, with the moderator and the participants in one room and the client watching the session from the other. Occasionally, groups are held in hotel or conference suites, but this requires special provisions for observers to be able to watch the sessions.

Consider the following points when choosing a location for your group:

• To encourage participation, hold the group at a location which is as convenient as possible for your target population – if they are required to travel a distance or to an inconvenient location they will be less likely to attend.
• Book a suitable room in advance and ensure the room is easy to find and accessible to all, including those with disabilities.
• Your room should be big enough to accommodate the group but small enough to be conducive to a group discussion.
• Book the room for half an hour before and half an hour after the scheduled time to allow time for arranging furniture and setting up / packing away recording equipment, etc.
• On the day, make sure the room is well sign-posted. Take your own door sign if necessary.
• Arrange any additional equipment you might need such as flip charts, overhead projectors, laptops, white boards, etc., and ensure you are able to work these in advance of the group.
• In your confirmation email or phone call to participants, make sure you provide full details of the room number and building, and, if necessary, brief instructions to help them find the room.

Read our blog ‘where should I host my focus group’ for some of our preferred venues in the UK.

6) How do I choose a moderator?

This can be a very difficult task. Anyone can declare themselves a moderator, so you need a stringent selection process to find the right moderator that includes a review of the candidate's qualifications and experience in conducting focus group research, as well as a look at their client list. Try to get references from other organizations who have used that moderator or go through a reputable fieldwork agency who will have good moderators on their team.

7) Should my focus group participants be incentivised?

Some people enjoy the process and like to give their opinions and ideas without need for pay; others do focus groups as a means to earn a few extra pounds.. Focus groups are also a way to keep up with new products or methods in a professional or interest field and that can draw out certain groups of people. To maximise initial interest and ultimately participation in your focus group we would recommend including an incentive for your participants.

8) How do I analyse my findings?

Focus groups or discussion groups are qualitative rather than quantitative methods, meaning that your report on such research is likely to be mainly text (i.e., a commentary describing the main issues which arose in the groups interspersed with illustrative quotes). It is useful to ‘code' the transcripts, as that enables you to view participants' comments on specific issues and topics together, even if your research comprised more than one group.

So there you go, everything you need to know when running your first focus group – we hope you found it useful. Setting up your focus group is just the first step, download our guide to getting the best participants for your focus group to ensure your study is a success!

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