What is a focus group?
A focus group is a market research tactic used to survey consumer attitudes towards a product, service, or campaign through a moderated conversation amongst participants. In contrast to individual interviews, this research is conducted in a group format, with a trained facilitator present to direct the discussion.
The information gathered through a focus group can help a company in many ways. It might point out necessary adjustments to a product early on in its development lifecycle, or troubleshoot why a campaign isn’t achieving the desired results.
Choosing participants for a focus group
A focus group should be representative of all of the different user profiles that make up a company’s target market, so the results accurately reflect how the audience as a whole will receive the product, service, or campaign in question. Researchers will select participants based on key demographic details, such as educational background, buying habits, geographic location, or age. Most of the time, it’s important to check that focus group members have no prior connection to each other.
Similar to scientists conducting multiple trials of the same experiment, market researchers might even hold multiple focus groups to collect even more feedback and control for extremities or outliers in their data.
You may also be interested in:
Format of a focus group
The basic structure of a focus group is a group discussion amongst participants, with guidance from a moderator. Sometimes this facilitation is more involved, and other times it’s very light. No matter the approach, the line of questioning will have been carefully determined beforehand and written down in a guidebook.
Throughout the conversation, either the moderator, or other researchers present in the room, will take careful notes on the group’s responses.
A common structure for questioning moves through these three stages:
Engagement questions: Gently open related questions to the topic at hand. If the goal is to analyze consumer reactions to a new phone application for buying groceries, you could begin by asking more general questions, from how they feel about the task of grocery shopping to their phone usage and habits.
Exploration questions: These specifically relate to the main topic of discussion. Continuing with the phone app example, you might ask about particular features they feel are important as grocery shoppers, whether they would be likely to use or trust an app to purchase food, etc. It’s common to later follow up on each of these questions and ask participants to more fully explain their responses.
Exit questions: Check to see if there are any additional thoughts or topics that weren’t addressed by your questions, or that arose after the discussion had moved on.
This flow is intended to help participants comfortably integrate into the conversation. Doing so helps participants respond more freely and honestly, thereby mimicking a natural discussion amongst peers as much as possible.