A trained moderator leads a 30-90-minute discussion within the group that is designed to gather helpful information. The moderator arrives with a set list of 10-12 questions that will be shared with the group during their time together that are designed to elicit thoughtful responses from all the participants. The moderator’s goal is to hear from everyone and to encourage many different opinions and ideas to be shared.
Focus group participants are recruited based on their purchase history, demographics, psychographics, or behavior and typically do not know each other. To ensure that the maximum number of different ideas or reactions have been captured from participants, companies typically hold several focus groups, often in different cities; 3-4 is common.
While participants are responding to a moderator question, the moderator and/or other observers take notes.
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Formerly referred to as “focused interviews,” focus groups were first used during World War II to assess reactions to radio programming. Today the technique has been expanded to evaluate consumer perceptions and reactions.
Focus group format
During the focus group, the moderator takes participants through three different types of questions designed to gather as much information from them as possible. They include:
- Engagement questions: These are easy questions posed early on to introduce the participants to each other, to make them more at ease, and to familiarize them with the topic to be discussed, whether it’s reacting to a new ad campaign for coffee or thinking about self-driving cars.
- Exploration questions: Once participants have begun to relax and open up in the group, the moderator begins to ask deeper, probing questions about the topic and how the participants feel about it. These might include, “What makes you say that?” “and “What would be a better solution?”
- Exit questions: After the moderator is confident the group has shared all that it can, wrap-up questions are posed to confirm that everything has been said. These might include, “Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have?”
Focus groups are one type of market research method that are popular because they:
- Are generally lower cost than other methods
- Can generate results very quickly
- Are easy to conduct
- Can supplement verbal responses with body language and other non-verbal cues
- Information gathered is in respondents’ own words, which is more accurate
- Technique is flexible and can be adjusted based on group behavior
Because a focus group involves multiple participants, the downsides of using this technique are generally related to the interactions between participants:
- Participants can be influenced by others in the group
- Domineering participants can skew the results
- Results from a small group can’t always be generalized to a larger population
Types of focus groups
Within the general category of focus groups are more specific types of groups that are designed for different scenarios. Some of these include:
- Mini focus groups: Fewer participants are used, bringing the number down from 6-12 to four or five consumers.
- Online focus groups: Consumers log into a website using video chat and participate remotely.
- Two-way focus group: Focus groups are often conducted behind one-way glass, where researchers can take note of what’s going on. In these types of groups, the whole group watches another and comments on what they observe and hear.
- Dual moderator focus group: Instead of one moderator in the room, there are two—one to facilitate the discussion and the other to take notes.
- Client participant focus group: When a representative of the company or product being studied watches or participates in the discussion.
In terms of collecting qualitative data from multiple respondents, focus groups are a popular market research tool.