Alicia Lawrence

Focus Group: Five Tips to Help Marketers

By: Alicia Lawrence | October 3, 2013 | 

focus group

By Alicia Lawrence

Upon entering the communications field I found it shockingly disappointing to find many agencies didn’t hold focus groups to back up their campaigns.

Or, if they did hold focus groups, they weren’t doing them justice.

Focus groups are a critical part of a campaign’s success.

Below are five ways to get the most out of your focus groups.

Focus Group Feedback Based on Experience

The Internet brought big data and more research than we hardly know what to do with.

With this abundant resource, the reasoning behind holding a focus group was boiled down to 1) Proof  the marketer’s creative idea and target market analysis was accurate or 2) The marketer doesn’t know where else to start.   

Beyond those wrong reasons to hold a focus group, many marketers have valid reasons to do original research, but they chose the wrong method.

Focus groups are qualitative in nature. They are meant to flesh out themes and theories.

For example, if a moderator asked what the participants thought about a mousetrap, they will give their opinion. That opinion might be based on attitudes, hearsay, or what they have read, but their opinion might not be based on an actual experience with the product.

To gain true insight, users must experience the product on their own. Feedback based on experience, not a hypothetical scenario, is far superior. Therefore, a usability test would be a better option than a focus group.

Look for Opportunities, not Answers

If the moderator and marketers are focused on finding answers to their long list of questions, they could miss the gold nuggets. Your team must be open to ideas and thoughts from focus group members, and not just concentrated on trying to find “proof” to give to the client.

The moderator should be willing to go down the rabbit hole, and explore deeper insights than what surface answers can give.

Let People Talk

Surface and forced answers are often the biggest problem with focus groups. While a good moderator will usually remedy this problem, it’s important to remember there’s often a disconnect between what people say and what they would actually do.

Instead of trying to get answers to a strict set of stock questions, let the group fall into a natural conversation. Only guide them into further and deeper conversation through the questions.

Prepare for Personality Types

Besides making sure you have at least two to three good-sized focus groups (six to eight participants), take into account the personality types of participants. You want to have a well-rounded sample, but extroverts will rule the introverts in focus groups.

While putting together your groups, place the introverts together so they won’t shrink into their shells during the focus group. The opinions of introverts are just as valuable and different than those of extroverts.

Use a Pro Moderator

The subject of how a moderator affects a focus group is highly controversial. Some say the moderator should be an employee of the company because they know the many facets of a company’s brand to help guide the conversation. Others argue  the moderator should be a third party so they are not biased or otherwise emotionally involved.

But what is critical to a focus group is having a moderator who knows what they are doing. Moderators should have years of experience running focus groups, and the knowledge to compare groups to those in similar focus groups he or she has done in the past.

Along with the numerous duties of a moderator, they should be able to bring out the deeper meaning behind participant’s answers. A good way to judge their skill in this is how they interview you regarding your company’s marketing problem.

What can you add? Have you held successful focus groups in the past? Love to hear your thoughts!

About Alicia Lawrence

Alicia Lawrence works for WebpageFX - the best SEO company (in her humble opinion). WebpageFX is a full-service Internet marketing company offering innovative web marketing solutions to mid to large size companies across the globe. Alicia also blogs at MarCom Land in her free time.

  • CommProSuzi

    Good job on this.
    I also find that many small and mid size business owners have convinced themselves they KNOW their audience and what their audience wants/needs and write off the opinions and insights of the audience.  Some of these folks haven’t come face to face with a consumer in decades, but they assume they KNOW the audience.
    Some helpful audience members will write in and offer insight only to have it scoffed and ignored in the halls of the Ivory Tower.  I wonder how many million dollar ideas have been left in those hallways. 
    Technology is so helpful, but trading ideas with a group of folks offers sparks that can grow into wildfires.

    • AliciaLawrence

      Thanks CommProSuzi 
      It shocks me every time I hear a client say that! Well said, Suzi!

    • EricPudalov

      CommProSuzi Very true, Suzi!  I find that even those who are truly “experts” in a business sense always have something to learn.  I suppose it takes an open-minded attitude to begin with…but I truly believe that that’s how some of the most successful businesses have gotten where they are today.

  • Great article Alicia. Do you have any advice as to the best practices or tips to formulate questions that will yield the most effective focus group feedback? I’ve always found that is the the ‘secret weapon’ in getting useful data from focus groups, but probably also the hardest thing to do.

  • Funny thing, AliciaLawrence – until I received your post, I didn’t think people actually *did* focus groups any more. 🙂 They feel so ‘1985’ to me. I wonder what the next big thing will be re: focus groups…how they can be modernized with technology, etc., to draw a different crowd in.

    • AliciaLawrence

      belllindsay It would make an interesting survey to see what agencies do today to gather their research.  I know many professionals who have adopted the”social media is your focus group” concept. Perhaps, Google Hangouts will become the modern focus group.

      • EricPudalov

        AliciaLawrence belllindsay I love the idea of using Google Hangouts that way!  Have you ever used the term “SWOT” (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)?  We do those every so often, with the idea that open discussion will find answers to our biggest issues, although there is some bickering.

        • AliciaLawrence

          EricPudalov AliciaLawrence belllindsay Yeah! I love doing SWOT analysis. Some light bickering is a good sign of a great team (for the most part), I would be worried if there wasn’t.

        • EricPudalov

          AliciaLawrence EricPudalov belllindsay Whew, that’s good to know!  When you put it that way, I guess it shows that people really do care enough to put their two cents in.

  • No room for introverts in my studies AliciaLawrence they don’t buy anything, they surely don’t have much influence, especially in the business world. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. But ginidietrich told me if you remove them from the groups you have more room for extroverts. Also always ask leading questions to get the answer you are looking for and do not allow dissension or differing opinions. This will ensure they are always successful. 8)
    As with all research it is really hard to be objective. The proof is the 9 in 10 new products that flop even though they go though a lot of R&D, Focus Groups, Surveys, Studies etc. Great post on how to prevent this and improve results.

    • AliciaLawrence

      Howie Goldfarb haha For a second there, I thought you were serious in your first paragraph 😀 Thanks, Howie!

  • So, I commented last night, but for some reason it looks like the Livefyre focus group decided my comment wasn’t good enough and deleted it. This morning when I was getting notifications of you responding Alicia, I was all like “why doesn’t Alicia like my comment? I thought it was a good comment? WHY DOESN’T ALICIA LIKE ME?!?”
    But then I came over here to survey this distressing situation and lo and behold my comment was no where to be found 🙁
    Anyway #extrovertproblems…
    Now on to my comment (let’s see if LiveFyre will find it worthy this time!)
    Do you have any advice as to the best practices or tips to formulate questions that will yield the most effective focus group feedback? I’ve always found that is the the ‘secret weapon’ in getting useful data from focus groups, but probably also the hardest thing to do.

    • AliciaLawrence

      LauraPetrolino So sorry that I’m just now commenting, Laura! Haha I promise I don’t hate you 🙂 Questions are one of the hardest parts of a focus group because there really is no “set questions” that you can just look up on Google to meet your needs. 
      First, you need to take into consideration the objective of the focus group. Keep in mind that answers might not come to your main questions till you prod further. For example, many of your main questions should be 4 layers deep. The first layer is the usual open ended question. 
      Next, the moderator should ask any follow up questions that should then lead to probing questions and prompted questions. So as you formulate your questions, keep this sequence in mind that will allow you flexibility in exploring and expanding the participants’ answers.
      Hope that helps!!

  • Great post. Alicia I find these are great tips once the company has the right questions. I have worked on research projects where the execs started out with the wrong questions.  In such cases no matter how much you let  people talk or have a great moderator or try to look for opportunities  you are on the wrong track. If you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers or wrong opportunity leads and that up front work in determining “what exactly  it is  we want to ask in this focus group or research” becomes so crucial. How about you? Have you had experiences with starting off with the wrong questions?

    • AliciaLawrence

      LSSocialEngage Very true! Questions are key! In college, one of my first focus groups that I held I asked the wrong questions. I was so set on getting the answers that I wanted that my questions were all off track and I lost what could have been a great opportunity to get into the minds of my target audience.

  • PR Newbie

    Great post! You presented many helpful tips and interesting ideas that should be taken into consideration when thinking about focus groups. I really liked the points you made about letting the group have a natural flow of conversation, for the moderator not to become too focused on the questions to ask, and for the moderator not to lead the group to much so that you are able to find the “golden nugget” of information. In a focus group, I think you would want the discussion to happen as organically as possible so the participants are able to present their opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Pointing out different personality types is a key point as well as one will never know how a group will react to each other and what types of personalities will be in the group. From reading this post it definitely sounds as if there is a lot to think about and to keep in mind in order for a focus group to be successful!

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