Focus Group Definition: 

Focus group in research, is a small group of carefully selected participants who contribute in open discussions about a new product or a feature update or any other topic to generalize the results from this focus groups to the entire population. These focus groups are conducted in the presence of a moderator who will ensure the results are as unbiased and legitimate as possible.

In 1991, marketing and psychologist expert Ernest Dichter came up with the name “Focus Group” for meetings held with a limited group of participants who assembled with the objective of discussion. Focus groups are a part of qualitative market research where a group of 6-10 people, usually 8, are asked to share their feedback, opinions, knowledge, and insights about technologies, products, services, marketing plans, sales strategies or any other topic. All the participants are free to convince the other participants to change their opinions and openly put their respective points forward. The mediator, in the meanwhile, would take notes and make records from this discussion. Due to the impact that this focus group can have on the result, a researcher needs to be extremely picky in the process of selecting participants for this focus group.

5 Steps to conduct a focus group in research:

  1. Have a clear agenda for the focus group. Why conduct a focus group? Where or How to conduct it? Answers to these questions must be clear before approaching participants to be a part of a focus group. Is the researcher intending to discuss new product features or the launch of a new product or service or the impact of current marketing plans etc? The statement of discussion should be put to paper for better clarity.
  2. Once the agenda of the focus group is decided, a researcher must start working on the questions. All these questions must align with the primary objective and should complement each other as well. The crucial ones must be put forth initially and the discussion should end with the least important questions.
  3. Schedule this focus group session. Time, place and duration must be finalized and communicated to all the participants beforehand.
  4. If it is an offline focus group, a venue must be booked and the address must be made clear to the participants. Provision for drinks (at least water), restrooms etc. should be in place for all the attendees. If it is an online focus group, a calendar invite to the meeting room must be sent out to the participant along with constant reminders.
  5. Create online and offline leaflets or brochures with a welcome note, agenda and overall rules of the meeting.

Main pillars of a focus group- The Participants: A crucial step in conducting a focus group is the process of participant selection. The main criteria for selecting the participants must be their know-how about the subject. There are many research-based organization that can help in providing access to the right participants for a focus group.

The role of a moderator: A researcher can out on the moderator’s hat as long as he/she is confident of conducting the focus group with utmost impartiality, confidence, and elan. In case, the researcher lacks the qualities that make a good moderator, qualified and extremely suitable candidates can be hired to do the job. There are instances where a focus group is highly opinionated, in which case, it is advisable to get professional facilitator on board.

A few other points to keep in mind while designing a focus group:

  • Keep a recording as evidence of whatever is discussed in the focus group meeting and let the participants know that they’re being recorded and discussion points are being noted during the meeting.
  • Circulate a discussion manual that consists of the schedule, dos and don’ts of the focus group, recording plan, mode of result sharing etc.
  • Make sure the execution plan is in place prior to the meeting so that any foreseen conflict can be eliminated and the main focus group event can be as accurate as possible.
  • Put a plan of action together according to the opinions and feedback received from the focus groups for implementing changes to improve and monitor growth once the changes are executed.

Types of focus groups:

Since its inception, there have been a lot of variation in the focus groups –

  • Dual-Moderator Focus Group: There are two moderators in this focus group. One of them will be expected to ensure smooth execution and the other will be in charge of making sure each and every question is discussed. This is a holistic approach to conduct focus groups.
  • Two-way Focus Group: In this method, one focus group will overlook the discussion happening in the other group. This makes way for more discussion points and may end up concluding in a different manner in the second case which gives a researcher more perspective.
  • Mini Focus Group: This focus group is restricted to 4-5 participants, unlike the regular focus groups which have 6-10 participants.
  • Client-involvement Focus Group: In this focus group, the clients who urged the focus group will be a part of the focus group.
  • Participant-moderated Focus Group: One or more participants provisionally take up the role of moderator. The chances of less biased, honest feedback increases when there are more than one people taking charge.
  • Online Focus Group:  All discussions of this focus group are conducted by sharing opinions and feedback via online mediums. There are three categories of people who are a part of an online focus group: observer, moderator, respondent.

Focus Group Questions

Good focus group questions should have the following characteristics:

  • Should have a friendly and conversational tone.
  • Wordings used in the discussion should be similar to the focus group participants.
  • They should be straightforward and accurate.
  • Generally, focus group questions are open-ended.
  • Each question includes only one aspect and doesn’t merge multiple topics.
  • Clarifying the purpose of the question can help in gaining improved information from the participants.

These questions must be simple, candid and must pertain to the topic of the focus group. The mediator should carefully curate questions which are not irritating to the participants. Questions must be asked to the group and not to specific individuals, due to which everyone present will feel included and that will result in a productive discussion.

A mediator must start the discussion with easy questions and based on the topic and ideally the initial questions should be kept positive. Discussion time per question should be restricted to 5-20 minutes in order to maintain proficiency. The last question will be such that an effective and inclusive conclusion can be drawn.

The are four categories of focus group questions:

1. Primary Question: This question is an introductory question which is open-ended that initiates the entire focus group discussion.

For example,

  • We are here to discuss about ____. What are your thoughts about it?

2. Questions used to probe: These questions are an extension to the main question and participants can throw light on every point discussed in the primary question.

For example,

  • What do you know about ____?
  • How familiar are you with this organizational program?
  • What do you love about our organization?

3. Questions to follow-up: Once the questions used to explore are introduced, there is room to further probe into participant opinions and feedback. The mediator can establish better insights using these questions.

For example,

  • What do you think are the pros and cons of this product?
  • According to you, where can we improve to provide better customer service?
  • Which factors prompted you to make a purchase our products/services?
  • What is the likelihood of recommending our products to your friends and colleagues?

4. Questions for conclusion: Review the questions already covered in the discussion to make sure none of the important factors are missed. If the mediator feels there are certain questions which need to be asked, this is where they must be asked. This is how the mediator can form conclusions.

For example,

  • Is there anything other than the already discussed questions you would like to talk about?
  • Do you want to add to what is already spoken about?

To keep the discussion interactive, the mediator can add questions such as “Do others intend to add something to this?” or “Can someone else take it from here?” or “Why do you think this is true? Would others like to pitch in?”.

Focus Group Examples

Focus groups are commonly used in three situations:

  • Initial stages of a research study
  • While creating a plan of action during a research
  • After the entire research study is completed to establish the results of the study.

An example of a focus group is –

The marketing team of an organization that deals with laptops aspires to fathom the customer feedback about the dimensions of an upcoming laptop variant. In such situations, direct information about the market can be received from focus groups in the most effective manner.

The team decides to appoint a group of 8 individuals who represent their target market to get together for a constructive discussion. They also get an experienced mediator onboard for this focus group who will supervise the entire conversation and establish concrete inferences. Questions about participant preferences, features opted for the laptop to have an edge over the others in the market, the projected price range, and other such crucial aspects.

Focus Group Advantages:

  • A great equivalent feedback gathering medium to the other predictable mediums such as online surveys and online polls. These mediums are highly technical as they usually deliver quantitative results and are generally implemented in case of time constraints or lack of knowledge of other market research methods.
  • Immediate access to customer feedback and opinions which makes the data collection and analysis process quick and convenient.
  • Highly flexible in the inception and execution as it is dependent on the researcher’s caliber and understanding of products or services and also their ability to plan and deliver a focus group.
  • Focus groups are usually a conducted continually so that any hiccup such as impact of current market situations may impact the discussion that the researchers face in one of the focus groups can be eliminated in the other sessions.
  • Focus groups are perfect sources to understand true feelings and perceptions of the participants who represent a population.

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