What are Focus Groups and how do I use them?
Focus Groups are an invaluable tool
Qualitative research helps businesses to strategically align to consumer needs by adding meaning, the elusive ‘why’ consumers act and behave the way they do. Focus group discussions (FGD’s) are great for unearthing new insight and are one of the most effective qualitative research tools available.
The power of focus groups is that they provide the “why” and “how” of a market insight or tension by asking a group of people how they feel about an issue, a product or an opportunity. In this way they are often used to humanise data and analytics. Additionally, numbers alone can be too dry and gut instinct too subjective, so focus groups help marketers feel the emotions and needs of their audience.
Group discussions are best used for when we need to understand an issue at a deeper level than you can access with a survey or by data analytics. They can encourage consumer debate to understand real tensions – and they can help verify stated preferences or attitudes in survey data.
They can also create better survey instruments and add colour to the survey outcomes. Groups are incredibly useful to help marketers understand opportunities and challenges in new ideas, specifically the potential downsides which can save the business lots of money and proves their worth as a marketing investment.
How Focus Groups work?
Focus groups are a qualitative research technique that involves a small gathering of participants and a moderator in a focus group room or online. The number of participants can be from around 8-10 for larger groups or 4-5 for mini-groups. There are countless versions however including supergroups which could have 30 participants or triads of 3. The key is that there is a group and a trained moderator who is asking the questions from an approved focus group guide.
Traditionally focus groups are conducted face to face, and often convened in a room with a one-way mirror and recording tools, but they can also be conducted in people’s homes, at venues like bars and clubs, at the beach, or almost anywhere where the context makes sense to the group discussion at hand. Focus Groups also don’t have to be conducted face to face. Online focus groups have emerged over the past decade, as an alternative to ‘live’ sessions and can be particularly useful for connecting with geographically or difficult to reach participants, or when face to face sessions are not possible.
Focus Groups use a topic guide rather than a questionnaire
The focus group guide is designed to stimulate discussion, gamify responses and build flexibility into the process. The guide is usually structured to start with broad questions such as general behaviours, attitudes or usage and then dive into deeper or more probing areas, connections, perceptions and evaluation. The questions tend to be open-ended to encourage conversation, rather than close-ended like you would find in a survey.
The use of projective techniques to get underneath rational response patterns is often found in positioning and advertising research and can include tools common in psychology, such as visualization techniques, personifications or ‘psychodrawings’. Flexibility is important so that changes can be made on the fly, or so that the moderator can dive deeper into a topic area of interest arising during the conversation or debate.
The real benefit of Focus Groups is getting to customer authenticity
Focus group discussions bring authenticity to marketing through understanding real consumer issues, learning how to speak in consumer language and ‘witnessing’ real people in action. This, in turn, can help you better define your target, clarify your message, improve your tone and offer so that your brand can act in market with authenticity and truly engage with consumers.
Another benefit is that focus groups can help remove personal bias or confusion from marketing. Gut feel and best guesses can lead you down the wrong path, where a couple of simple focus groups can provide you with a wealth of knowledge, connection and guidelines to win with consumers.
A third key benefit is that focus groups are simple. They are simple to recruit from paid panels or off the street, simple to convene and, in the hands of an experienced moderator, simple to run. They can be turned around quickly for simple insights and married up to quantitative research to help bring numbers to life simply.
When should you use a Focus Group?
Focus groups are versatile, but they can’t answer every consumer issue. As a rule of thumb, if you need large numbers to help you with a business case, you probably need a survey. However, if you are looking to have a conversation with your consumers, to drive direction, to explore a market or to get feedback, a focus group should suit your needs.
Focus groups are great for understanding marketing issues like:
- Understanding Consumer Sentiment
- Exploring New Markets
- Getting to grips with Consumer Trends
- Brand Positioning Research
- Advertising and Messaging development
- Gap and Opportunity Exploration for New Product Development
- Packaging and Product development
- Issues exploration and debate
Top tips to get more out of focus groups
Focus and prioritise
The best way to conduct focus group research is to ensure you’re answering one key strategic question at a time — and well! If you’re worried about the state of your brand, you need to ask yourself why you’re in the position. What has caused this decline?
The main benefits of focus groups are to allow a moderator to really ‘focus’ on getting the most out of their given group. This means asking targeted questions that lead to actionable outcomes for your business. That’s why partnering with a qualitative focus group research company like Ruby Cha Cha is more important than ever.
Identify your target audience
There’s not enough time or resources to talk to everybody — and that wouldn’t help your business. You can focus on what matters most by narrowing down your target audience: results. Are they working, mums? Teenagers? Businesses? These are essential questions that need to be answered at the outset.
Have all relevant information ready
To truly take advantage of focus group research, all the relevant information needs to be laid out properly. This means walking the tightrope of avoiding information overload and also scarce background knowledge. You need your researchers to have everything they need to level up your business.
Body language is important
We know just how important it is to pay attention to all aspects of a focus group. Some participants may feel shy or nervous or even unable to articulate themselves well enough verbally. That’s where body language comes in handy. We can be better informed and prepared for actionable feedback by dialling in on moods and subtle movements.
Great stimulus is a necessity
For truly informative and results-driven focus group research, you need your product in the hands of the group. So, if you’re offering a product or service, you need something workable to provide during the research process. This can mean gamification or just simply focusing on an extremely engaging process such as marketing mapping with your competitor brands, seeing your product and packaging up close or even sensory testing within the group. You need accurate feedback, which can only be achieved through a reliable reproduction of your business offering or experience.
Things to avoid
Not focusing on the important things
By trying to get as much as possible out of your budget, you’re spreading yourself (and your researchers) too thin. This means you won’t properly focus on any key aspect of your focus group research. Be clear on your objectives and outcomes. This is not the time to test everything. Make sure your group is focussed on what is important.
Avoiding dedicated qualitative focus group research
Qualitative research ensures that you have every aspect of your audience covered. From personality to gender and working status, you need to have everything covered for the best results. This might mean you need enough focus groups to cover the key variables independently (i.e. splitting groups by gender, frequency of purchase or consumption, geography or segments).
Assuming relevant information will provide a moderator bias
This is a crucial aspect to avoid. It’s false to assume your moderator will be influenced by the information you give them. Quite the opposite. They need everything you can provide, so that the moderators have a total and unbiased view of your offerings and what is required to drive results.
Underestimating body language
Just because something isn’t said doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Focusing on the more subtle nuances of the group will pay dividends.
Questions are enough
Having only questions and no stimuli means you’re needlessly restricting your progress. Preparing an in-depth guide with engaging content and products is essential to successful focus group research.
Focus Groups are about having a conversation with your customer. They are simple to run, highly effective and get marketers closer to reality. There are many different formats to choose – from face to face to online, and a good moderator can help you fit the right method to suit your needs and budget.
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