focus groups

Qualitative research is ideally suited to gain a deeper understanding of the opinions, motivations, frustrations, and priorities of your target audience. There are numerous ways to achieve this level of understanding, chiefly through focus groups and in-depth interviews (IDIs). Both methods can be highly effective at uncovering and unlocking valuable insights.

Focus Groups

Following a pre-determined set of questions, but with ample room to dive into previously uncharted yet relevant issues, a professional moderator encourages and manages an open discussion and the cross-pollination of ideas among the participants. While the size of the group can vary, a recommended amount typically involves 6-10 participants. The group may be conducted either in-person at a professional focus group facility or at other venues such as at a conference or convention; or else online. The number of groups depends on the audience type; but in general, two groups are better than one. The second group serves as a confirmation (or dissension) of the first group’s findings and provides identification of additional issues and ideas on which to probe.

In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)

In-depth interviews are one-on-one discussions conducted by phone or in-person. Like focus groups, they also follow a predetermined yet flexible guide and may last anywhere from 20-60 minutes. The total number of IDIs may vary, and depends on the audience type, with 3-5 interviews per segment as a reasonable amount. IDIs are a great tool when targeting a very specific decision-maker or executive that is harder to reach. The one-on-one format of IDIs is also well suited to topics of a sensitive nature, or when the participant seeks to avoid sharing information with a possible competitor.

Which Method Do You Choose?

Typically, the specific circumstances of your research project will dictate whether focus groups, in-depth interviews, or perhaps even a combination, is most appropriate.

Focus groups are recommended for the following situations:

  • Eliciting deeply held opinions and beliefs
  • Obtaining detailed information from a small and potentially diverse group of individuals
  • Evaluating a concept, message or ad
  • Assessing a product or service

On the other hand, IDIs are recommended over focus groups in the following situations:

  • The audience is limited and geographically dispersed.
  • The research requires the input of decision-makers from competing firms (who are often unwilling to talk openly in front of one another).
  • The target audience is comprised of very high-level and/or extremely busy professionals, such as corporate executives or medical specialists, and may be unwilling to travel to a research facility at a specific time.
  • The discussion topics are sensitive or personal in nature.

It is important that you and your research firm weigh each option carefully when determining the most effective qualitative method for your particular needs. Indeed, some studies may benefit by utilizing both approaches, based on the nature of the target audience. Market Connections works together with our clients to create the best strategy to get the answers they need with qualitative research. Contact us to learn more.

1. Focus groups are all about understanding your customers, really digging deep into their needs, wants, and emotional reactions. This information can be very useful to business planning; however, it should always be remembered that focus groups are qualitative research there is no statistical significance associated with it, and it cannot be applied to the general population.

2. Recruiting is a key aspect of focus group success. It isn’t a numbers game – rather, more importance should be placed on finding the right people for your groups. A conversation with six very qualified participants will likely yield more fruitful results than a session with ten unqualified participants. Participants should be screened to ensure they are qualified and knowledgeable in the topic at hand. Also, incentives are generally offered to encourage participants to attend.

3. Make sure you thoroughly review and understand the moderator’s guide. This is the tool that your moderator will be using to keep the group on track, encourage feedback useful to your research project, and lead conversation. Make sure you are comfortable with everything included in the guide.

4. A good moderator is vital to focus group success. Your research firm will likely have skilled, qualified moderators available for any focus groups you are conducting. Depend on these moderators to keep conversation flowing, and to evoke the “intimate strangers” feeling among the group.

5. Always plan to attend your own focus groups. There is usually a room available for viewing focus groups. Viewing the participants in real time allows you to hear and see useful insights that may not get captured in the written report, and you’ll be able to request clarification or additional information if something a participant says is unexpected or unclear. However, do be sure to watch quietly, and wait to ask your moderator questions until s/he comes to the back room at specified times. These times should be outlined in your moderator’s guide if they are not, request that at least one moderator visit to the backroom be added in.

If you are interested in learning more, please go to the Market Connections website and sign up for our free e-course about focus groups.

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