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Focus Groups 101

Focus Groups 101

Focus Groups 101

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Have you ever wanted to delve into the psyche of your consumer? Find out what makes them tick or gets their attention? What motivates them to take action? What will they think of your new website, online tool, or marketing strategy? A focus group can certainly help uncover some of these mysteries, to help you build a better and stronger brand or product.

What is a Focus Group?

A focus group is a research technique that involves speaking to strategically selected groups of consumers, to obtain their opinions on specific products or test concepts. Groups are typically six to ten individuals in size. The participants are chosen according to specific criteria, such as, demographics (age, gender, education, etc.), psychographics (behaviours, interests, consumer habits, etc.) and lifestyle (dependent, family, retired, etc.).

A focus group uses a trained moderator to guide and run the session. The moderator will have a list of questions to ask the group, as well as moderation instructions to follow. A common format for conducting focus groups, is to have cameras filming in the room and streaming the process live for observers in another room. Focus groups are also often conducted in rooms that are equipped with a one way mirror and have an adjoining observation room. Either method, allows observers to watch the focus group in action without interfering with or influencing the results.

When can it be used?

A focus group is especially effective when you would like to get consumer feedback quickly, or need to explore different ideas before being able to proceed on a decision. This is particularly useful in the test concept phase of a product, when the product and marketing plan is still under development, and therefore more easily modified based on the group findings.


The reactions of each member is observed and recorded to help better understand the pulse(s) of the consumer. What did they do first? What did they ignore or skip? Did they prefer one item over another, or did they not have an opinion of it at all? More specific issues, like the perception of a product recall on a company’s brand, are also discussed in a focus group setting. The presence of other consumers can create a more comfortable environment to be open and honest about one’s opinion on a company and/or product, which might not happen in a one-on-one interview.

What are some of the advantages of Focus Groups?

  • Focus groups provide extensive interaction among participants. Non-verbal communication can also be recorded as data.
  • Moderators guide the discussion as required, according to the needs and objectives of the research.
  • The process can be observed in real-time as the process unfolds.
  • A moderator can apply techniques to help participants open up and uncover any hidden beliefs. Word associations, sentence completion and role playing, are just a few examples of techniques used.

What are some of the disadvantages of Focus Groups?

  • Participants may be more reluctant to discuss personal issues in a group setting, however, this suggests that a one-on-one interview may be a better option.
  • The stronger personalities in the group may lead the discussion and skew the opinions of others, which is why it is important to have a good moderator working to help guide the group from being persuaded one way or the other.
  • A focus group is designed to provide a general direction towards consumer opinions. If more quantitative data is desired, there are other options like, surveys, eye-tracking or AB Split testing.

What does it all mean?

Focus group research is a useful, exploratory experience that will help you to get to know your consumers more intimately and better understand why they behave in certain ways. This will better help you in directing your marketing to particular groups, or to produce a product that will provide the best experience for the masses. Focus groups are one of the quickest and most engaging form of market research.

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