You’re likely familiar with the purpose focus groups. Conducted as open-ended discussions with a small group of potential buyers, focus groups are a qualitative research tactic used to uncover opinions and attitudes toward a particular concept or topic. Companies often utilize focus groups to probe and prioritize the factors for motivating trial, purchase, and ongoing use of a product or service. Or, with that information already in hand, they’ll use focus groups for assessing and improving marketing messages and creative executions planned for a product or service promotion.
However, even with the best laid plans, focus groups are only successful when executed with close attention to the details. Here are some tips for ensuring your next focus group stays on track:
- Establish explicit and attainable objectives: Set concise and clear objectives for the focus group in writing. Then work with your research firm to ensure they’re all attainable within the focus group format. It’s important to share these objectives with internal stakeholders in order to properly set expectations for the results.
- Carefully develop the screener: The screener is the tool the research firm will use to recruit participants. It’s critical that you provide upfront input to and back end review of the screener in order to ensure the recruited participants exactly fit the profile of the desired target audience.
- Know the optimal group size: Any research firm worth its price will advise a focus group size of no more than 8 to 10 participants. It’s small enough to allow participants somewhat equal time in stating their opinions while minimizing interruptions. Yet, it’s large enough to get a variety of opinions and to steer one or two participants away from dominating the conversation.
- Review the moderator guide: The research firm will develop a guide for the professional moderator to use when driving the discussion points with the group. The guide must be both explicit and flexible in order to start and shift the conversation flow as well as facilitate participants’ feedback and keep them on track. To maximize the effectiveness of probing, the guide will usually begin with the broader aspects of a topic and then naturally drill into its more detailed subsets. It’s beneficial for clients to review and provide feedback to the moderator guide before the focus group is conducted, as their insights can often improve it. In addition, advance knowledge of the intended conversation flow ensures clients aren’t unpleasantly surprised while the focus group is in progress.
- Entrust the moderator selection to your research firm: As the focus group is being conducted, the moderator is in control of its success or failure. He or she must be able to stay in control of the discussions, glean independent opinions from all participants, quell any overbearing personalities, remain on task, and spontaneously make adjustments to satisfy the client’s additional on-the-spot probes. Good research firms have working relationships with trained and experienced moderators that they trust. Follow their advice on which moderator to use.
- Attend your focus groups: Whenever possible, attend your own focus groups. You’ll hear and see useful insights that may not get captured in the written report. Furthermore, you’ll be able to request clarification and/or additional probes in reaction to participants’ feedback.
The bottom line is you should and can trust your research firm to manage your focus group project. But, without micro managing them, do stay involved. After all, you know your business and target audience better than any partner,? even those you trust implicitly.