Sometimes surveys and second hand research are not enough to understand what’s going on in people’s minds. That’s when you need to get a group of target customers in a room to hold a focus group. But to the uninitiated, doing this could seem more challenging than it is. In this article we look at what a focus group is, consider its pros and cons and look at the challenges you will face.
What is a Focus Group?
A focus group is a marketing research method involving a small group of diverse people tasked with experiencing and discussing a particular product, service or subject. The reactions of the focus group participants form qualitative data that can be analyzed and extrapolated to predict how said product or service may be perceived by the larger population.
When to Use Focus Groups
The best time to use focus groups is when in-person, social-oriented feedback is most important. For example:
- Seeing and handling a product is essential: Customers experiencing a new product firsthand may have questions you wouldn’t otherwise think to address.
- When body language is as important as what’s said: One, not everyone is comfortable saying negative things, and two, others may have difficulty expressing themselves, so gauging body language is very useful.
- Knowing how a group dynamic differs: Individuals have different priorities and expectations, but they will also have their own personal perspectives influenced by others, so focus groups reveal the group dynamic.
- Exploring consumer language: Studying a focusing group gives you insight into how people will talk about your product or service.
- Insight into a target demographic: A group focus with specific types of people can provide beneficial insight into how their particular demographic will react to your product, service or subject.
Advantages of Focus Groups
Focus group research possesses several advantages over other research methods. There are a variety of great benefits to using focus groups in your research. This variety of benefits provides a wide scope of advantages that include:
Focus groups deliver results in a much quicker time frame than other marketing research methods. After all, your research will come directly from your group when they meet. As a result, it will be collected all at once. You decide when the group is to take place and you will start receiving useful data as soon as the focus group begins.
Not only is the data collected quickly, but it is real life data acquired using discussion that provides genuine insight into how real people react to your product or service. Questionnaires can be unreliable as you do not witness the input of data, yet you get to witness, record and analyze all the reactions during focus group research. This gives your research with a focus group an immediacy and authenticity unavailable through other methods.
There’s something else this approach will give you that other forms of research simply cannot. The dynamic produces unpredictable results which can turn out to be the most useful data of all. This might not always be the case (see the disadvantages below), but individuals can get locked into a particular mindset, while groups will influence and inspire each other to ever more interesting thoughts and opinions.
Compared to other types of marketing and research methods, focus group research is relatively inexpensive and easy to conduct. You’ll need a place for your group to meet and perhaps some refreshments depending on the amount of time your session will take. But unlike questionnaires which may require online software and a marketing campaign to collect the right information, simply invite some of your best customers.
The trouble with questionnaires is that they depend on you knowing the right questions to ask. By contrast, focus group participants will use their own language to describe how they feel about your product or service. Thus they result in more accurate data that isn’t restricted by predetermined answers or prompts.
Disadvantages of Focus Groups
There are some potential disadvantages to using focus groups which you should be aware of before deciding to go this route. Most of these can be avoided by setting the group up correctly, though this is in itself something many people might find difficult. Disadvantages when you use a focus group for market research include:
While a positive group dynamic can inspire group participants to be more expressive and descriptive of their feelings about a subject, a negative group dynamic can have the opposite effect. It is important that there are no domineering personalities who might overly impact the results.
It is also true that not all data acquired through group interviews can be extrapolated to a wider population. This presents some obvious challenges. It is very possible that focus group participants do not reveal exactly how the wider populace will react to a product or service.
Poorly Chosen Groups
Identifying one suitable focus group participant can be difficult enough, let alone an entire selection who can provide the relevant insight you need! This is especially true if you are new to the process and do not have experience in who to contact and how. Take the example of a new business without the customer base or industry contacts from which to draw.
Loss of Control
Certain market research methods afford you lots of control over how people react and the answers they give to certain prompts. This type of research has its place but it is very restricted. The price of losing those restrictions is an equivalent loss of control over how the group participants behave.
Moderating group interviews and discussions takes a particular set of skills and this can be a problem if there is no one who knows how and when to get involved to nudge the group discussion along in a useful direction.
Frequently Asked Questions About Focus Groups
So what are some of the most important concerns small business owners have about this form of research? Here are a couple of the most frequently asked questions, starting with the most frequently asked of all.
How much do focus groups cost?
Focus groups can come in all shapes and sizes and so their costs will be varied and determined by a variety of factors. Funds will have to be made available for recruitment of the group’s participants, with costs increasing for more specialized recruits. They’ll also need travel expenses, food and refreshments. Then there’s the facility costs such as room rental and transport or operation of any necessary equipment. Add on top of that the fees of a professional moderator, and an ordinary market research focus group will end up costing somewhere between $4,000 and $12,000.
Smaller businesses will obviously want to aim for the lower end of that scale or even lower if possible, and there are several ways you can achieve this. One advantage smaller businesses have when using focus groups is that they are unlikely to need multiple groups across several cities and states, which is definitely a good way of keeping the costs down. Using just one group might not be useful, but two from the same area will not increase your costs too much.
You can also keep the size of the groups and the length of time they are required to a minimum. Another tip is to seek out facilities where you can conduct the focus group for free. Look for community libraries, or even consider setting up your own office as a makeshift focus group room.
You can also minimize your costs by taking on much of the organizational and moderation responsibilities yourself. For a relatively small investment, a tool like the Focus Group Kit can walk you through the entire process of organizing a focus group.
Can you have online focus groups?
Yes you can have online focus groups. Two approaches include:
- Using specific online platforms and services: There is plenty of focus group software available online, so try out the likes of Collabito, Focus Vision or Focus Group It and see which one best suits your focus group purposes.
- Using online video tools to take a DIY approach: Take advantage of modern video conferencing technology by hosting your own DIY focus group via Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts. Again there are a few differences between the options, so check them all out and see which meets your needs best.
Focus groups can be a brilliant marketing research strategy that can save you a lot of time as well as a lot of money if they are organized according to a budget. It might seem a daunting challenge at first, but once you know what to do, they can elevate your marketing strategy to a whole new level.