What is a Focus Group and What Do They Cost?

What is a focus group

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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.

How Much Does a Focus Group Cost?

The cost of conducting a focus group varies widely based on several factors, including the number of participants, the location of the focus group, the level of expertise of the moderator, and the duration of the session. On average, the cost can range from $2,000 to $15,000 per group.

This range includes expenses for recruiting and compensating participants, renting a venue, hiring a professional moderator, and any additional costs for equipment or refreshments.

Businesses aiming for budget-friendly options can reduce costs by minimizing group sizes, conducting sessions online, or moderating the sessions themselves.

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.

what is a focus group

Advantages of Focus Groups

Focus group research possesses several advantages over other research methods. Indeed, these group discussions have become the bedrock of many market research endeavors, offering a blend of quantitative and qualitative insights.

By facilitating a direct dialogue with participants, researchers can delve deeper into a topic, capturing the richness of human perspectives. This variety of benefits provides a wide scope of advantages that include:

Quick Results

Focus groups are designed to deliver results in a much quicker time frame than other marketing research methods, such as extensive surveys or prolonged observational studies. After all, your research will come directly from your group when they convene.

This means that feedback, thoughts, and reactions are immediately available. The organizer determines the schedule and setting for the session, ensuring an efficient use of time.

Furthermore, the interactive nature means that facilitators can adapt and probe certain areas on the spot, allowing a fluid and real-time gathering of insights.

Great Insights

The speed of results isn’t the only benefit. Focus groups gather data that is alive and vibrant, often touching on emotions and beliefs.

Unlike impersonal questionnaires or remote online polls, this setting fosters a direct conversation, revealing genuine insight into how real people perceive, use, or react to a product or service. The flaws of self-reported surveys – where you can’t verify the sincerity or context of a response – are mitigated.

Here, you not only collect feedback but also witness, record, and analyze the emotional and cognitive reactions of participants. The live, interactive environment captures nuance, tone, and context, offering an immediacy and authenticity that static methods can’t match.

what is a focus group

Unexpected Data

This collaborative research method provides an avenue for surprising insights. While structured surveys might box respondents into specific answer sets, the free-flowing nature of a focus group often results in spontaneous and unexpected feedback.

Sometimes, participants articulate feelings or perspectives they weren’t consciously aware of until the group dynamic drew them out. It’s this organic exchange of ideas, where one person’s comment can spark a chain reaction of related thoughts in others, that sets focus groups apart.

Although the process doesn’t guarantee that every session will yield a groundbreaking revelation, the possibility of uncovering golden nuggets of insight is always present.

The collective synergy can lead participants to challenge their own biases or consider aspects they hadn’t thought of, enriching the research outcome.

Cost Effectiveness

When considering the financial implications of market research, focus group research stands out as a relatively cost-effective option. Compared to extensive national surveys or complex digital campaigns, focus groups offer a more budget-friendly approach.

While you would need to invest in a conducive environment – which might be as simple as a quiet conference room – and perhaps offer some incentives like refreshments or small compensation, the overheads are significantly lower.

On the other hand, designing and distributing questionnaires, especially if utilizing online platforms or third-party services, can accumulate costs.

Moreover, engaging with a real audience directly reduces the risk of misinterpreting data, potentially saving costs in making incorrect strategic decisions based on misleading information.


Accuracy in data collection is pivotal. Surveys, while valuable, often constrain respondents within a preset framework, requiring them to respond to specifically worded prompts. This can unintentionally influence or limit their responses.

Focus groups, in their interactive format, allow participants to articulate feelings, perceptions, and thoughts in their own words. This freedom often yields raw, unfiltered feedback.

The narrative that emerges is shaped by genuine consumer experience, leading to richer and more authentic insights that aren’t boxed into predefined categories.

what is a focus group

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

However, like every research method, focus groups have their limitations. To achieve optimal results, it’s imperative to recognize and navigate these challenges. Potential pitfalls include:

Bad Influences

The collaborative strength of focus groups can also be a vulnerability. While the collective interaction can produce illuminating insights, a single dominant personality can skew the direction of the conversation.

If not moderated effectively, these influential participants can overshadow quieter voices, creating an echo chamber that might miss out on valuable minority opinions or feedback.

Unreliable Data?

Data consistency and representativeness is a challenge. Focus group participants represent a tiny fraction of your potential audience. Even with the best sampling techniques, the insights derived might not wholly reflect broader consumer sentiment.

This is where a diverse participant selection is crucial. Relying solely on focus group results without complementary research can lead to decisions based on incomplete or biased perspectives.

It’s essential to balance the depth of focus groups with broader research tools to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your target audience.

what is a focus group

Poorly Chosen Groups

Curating the right mix for a focus group is paramount to the success of the research. There’s an art and science to selecting participants who not only fit the demographic profile but also offer diverse perspectives.

Inexperienced researchers or new businesses might lack the nuanced understanding of their target audience, making this process even more challenging. Consider a fledgling startup that’s just trying to get a foothold in the market.

Without a significant customer base or industry connections, finding the right participants can become a daunting task. Moreover, relying on a poorly chosen group might lead to skewed results, which in turn could impact business decisions based on that feedback.

Loss of Control

While traditional research methods, like surveys or one-on-one interviews, allow for a structured, predictable flow of information, focus groups are inherently fluid. This dynamism can be both a strength and a challenge.

The open-ended nature of group discussions may lead to unexpected tangents or participants dominating the conversation, potentially overshadowing critical insights. This unpredictability means researchers relinquish some level of control over the direction and tone of the discussion.

A successful focus group demands an adept moderator—someone skilled at guiding the conversation without stifling it. Without effective moderation, a focus group could deviate from its objectives, rendering the exercise less fruitful.

Ensuring the right balance of direction and freedom is pivotal for harnessing the true potential of focus group discussions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Focus Groups

For those who like a quick comparison, below is a table that contrasts the main advantages and disadvantages of using focus groups. This table provides a concise overview to help you weigh the pros and cons of this research method:

Quick resultsBad influences
Great insights from real-life discussionsPotential for unreliable data
Unexpected data from group dynamicsChallenges in choosing the right participants
Cost-effective compared to other methodsLoss of control over group behaviors
Accurate data without predetermined promptsModeration requires specific skills

The Role of Moderation in Focus Group Success

Effective moderation is critical to the success of a focus group. A moderator acts as the facilitator, guiding the discussion to ensure that every participant’s voice is heard while keeping the conversation on track with the objectives of the research. Here are some key aspects of successful moderation:

  • Selection and Training: Moderators should possess a mix of psychological insight, subject matter familiarity, and neutrality. Training should cover techniques in encouraging participation, managing dominant personalities, and steering conversations constructively.
  • Creating Comfort: The moderator creates an environment where participants feel safe to express their thoughts freely. This includes setting clear guidelines at the beginning about respect and confidentiality.
  • Probing Techniques: Effective moderators use probing techniques to delve deeper into participants’ responses without leading them. This might involve asking for clarification, examples, or exploring the reasons behind their opinions.

Tailoring Focus Groups to Digital Platforms

The digital evolution has extended the reach of focus groups, allowing for a more diverse demographic participation. Conducting focus groups on digital platforms requires consideration of several factors to ensure their effectiveness:

  • Choosing the Right Platform: Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or dedicated focus group software should be selected based on features like breakout rooms, polling, and ease of recording.
  • Engagement Strategies: Keeping participants engaged in a digital format might involve interactive elements like real-time polls or incorporating visual stimuli directly into the platform.
  • Maintaining Integrity: The virtual setting should replicate the confidentiality and controlled environment of in-person groups. This includes ensuring privacy settings are stringent and that participants are aware of how data is being collected and used.

Analyzing Focus Group Data: Beyond the Surface

The rich qualitative data collected from focus groups requires thorough analysis to uncover deep insights. This involves several steps:

  • Thematic Analysis: Identifying themes and patterns within the discussion helps in understanding the broader implications of the responses.
  • Use of Software Tools: Qualitative data analysis software can assist in coding responses and organizing data to highlight significant findings.
  • Triangulation: Combining focus group findings with other data sources, such as surveys or sales data, can validate and enrich the insights gained.

Ethical Considerations in Focus Group Research

Conducting focus groups involves navigating several ethical considerations to protect participants:

  • Informed Consent: Participants should be fully informed about the purpose of the research, how their data will be used, and their rights to withdraw.
  • Confidentiality: Ensuring that participants’ identities and responses are kept confidential is paramount. This might involve anonymizing data or using secure platforms for digital groups.
  • Sensitive Topics: Special care should be taken when discussing sensitive topics, with moderators trained to handle such discussions empathetically and respectfully.

Maximizing ROI: Strategic Planning for Focus Group Research

To ensure focus groups are cost-effective and yield valuable insights, strategic planning is essential:

  • Clear Objectives: Define what you aim to achieve with the focus group to ensure discussions are focused and productive.
  • Participant Selection: Carefully select participants who represent your target demographic to ensure the insights are relevant and actionable.
  • Realistic Expectations: Understand the limitations of focus groups and plan to complement them with other research methods for a comprehensive view.

what is a focus group

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.

What affects 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.

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Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 7 years. She is based in the United Kingdom and since 2006, Gabrielle has been writing articles, blogs and news pieces for a diverse range of publications and sites. You can read "Gabrielle’s blog here.".