What is a Focus Group?
A cornerstone of qualitative market research, focus groups involve convening a small sample (typically 6-8) of consumers from the target market and leading a collective exploration of the research subject.
What are the aims of Focus Groups?
The group dynamic makes focus groups a creative forum for debate – allowing respondents to snowball ideas off one another and say things that wouldn’t have come to mind in a one-to-one situation.
Whilst this is their strength, critics point to the fact that things that otherwise would have barely been mentioned can become hot-housed. Another criticism is the way ‘strong’ individuals can be seen to lead the other participants. An experienced moderator can, however, mitigate for both these – sensing when topics are getting blown out of proportion and stopping forceful group members becoming overly dominant.
Focus groups are less suited to obtaining detailed behavioural information, for instance the path to purchase of your last sofa. These topics are better tackled in one-to-one interviews where every step can be explored without a larger group of respondents having to sit and listen.
How are Focus Groups undertaken?
Respondents are usually recruited based on common characteristics/behaviours (e.g. working mums, retired affluent couples, fashion lovers). This ensures that they feel comfortable with one another and are likely to have similar experiences to share and debate.
A moderator runs the focus group – following a discussion guide agreed with the client ahead of the session.
Different sessions focus on distinct respondent types, meaning that conclusions are drawn by piecing together insights from all the groups, rather than jumping to conclusions based on a single group.
Focus groups are an easy way for interested parties to observe research – viewing facilities containing two-way mirrors set up to allow a group of stakeholders to watch from behind the glass. A less expensive option is for stakeholders to sit in the room alongside respondents.
Moderators will usually give stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the group – this is much better than asking questions along the way as this is off-putting to the moderator and confusing for respondents!
Online versions, utilising webcams, can recreate the shared experience and allow hard-to-convene sections of the population to be reached.