Good business decisions start by asking questions. Will there be much interest in a new product or service? Will a proposed marketing campaign strike a chord with customers? What do people truly think of your brand? A reasonably simple, and relatively inexpensive way to answer such strategic questions may be through a focus group.
Unlike surveys, focus groups allow for nuance in the feedback you receive. (How many times have you filled out a questionnaire and the answer you really want to give is “it depends.”) The comparatively free-wheeling format of a focus group will also let you judge the intensity of feeling that’s coming from your participants. Additionally, focus groups may provide insights and creative ideas that you’ve never considered.
Another advantage of focus groups is that they don’t have a lot of requirements. Professional assistance is probably advisable but honestly, if you have the confidence and inclination, there wouldn’t be much harm in trying a do-it-yourself approach. Here are the necessities:
Limit the discussion to a single topic. They are called “focus” groups for a reason. The idea is to take a defined topic and explore the relevant thoughts and feelings of your target audience. Know what questions you want to have answered before you start.
Screen for the right people. Just as you wouldn’t ask bald men about hair-coloring products, not everyone will be right for your focus group. You should screen to get about 10 – 15 unbiased people who are representative of the target market in terms of demographics, knowledge and potential interest.
Choose an adept moderator. Obviously, this person needs to be at ease talking to small group of strangers. However, he or she also needs to be mentally agile, objective, congenial, willing to referee between stronger and less aggressive personalities, and able to keep the discussion on point and moving along.
Find an appropriate setting. A conference room at your place of business might be acceptable with accommodations that provide clean restroom facilities, refreshments/snacks and comfortable seating. However, to avoid unduly influencing the group, a neutral site such as a hotel meeting room or a private dining room in a restaurant may be the better choice.
Keep good records. You should do this on two fronts: have someone take notes to capture discussion highlights, PLUS be sure to make an audio/video recording as well. Video is important because a lot of communication is nonverbal, and seeing such reactions during the meeting may be just as illuminating as the comments you hear.
If you hold one focus group and find the exercise to be both worthwhile and budget friendly, why not make them a regular part of your marketing research routine? (The more information you gather, the better, and you’ll only improve facilitation with additional practice.) On top of everything else, we believe you’ll find conducting focus groups to be a highly interesting and potentially very enjoyable experience.