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What is a Focus Group?

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

Focus groups have a distinct advantage over all other market research methods. They are flexible, it capitalizes on the researcher’s abilities to communicate with people to extract meaningful insights and opinions. A good moderator who prepares well and has had the experience of conducting the focus groups can be a representative for the decision maker.

Focus groups are conducted with participants who have a common interest in the topic of discussion. The purpose of a focus group is not about arriving at a common consensus or some level of agreement or to decide what to do about the topic being discussed. Focus groups are designed to identify and understand perceptions, feelings and know what consumers might think about a particular product or service. Since the focus group uses qualitative data collection methods just as the dynamics in real life participants are able to interact freely and the desired outcome is mostly unbiased.

Steps to Conduct a Focus Group

A focus group is in an important tool for market research. Therefore, it is important to conduct it appropriately. The steps to conducting a focus group, are:

  1. Define the agenda: 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. Questions: 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: Schedule this focus group session. Time, place and duration must be finalized and communicated to all the participants beforehand.
  4. Location: 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 invites to the meeting room must be sent out to the participant along with constant reminders.
  5. Data collection process: Create online and offline leaflets or brochures with a welcome note, agenda and overall rules of the meeting.

Role of Moderator in a Focus Group

Even though a focus group since is qualitative in nature, the moderator must define the end result and quantify it so that the research is actionable. The moderator must also be aware of bias and try to not let that engulf the research. There are four types of moderators in a focus group. They are:

Complete observer: In this type, the moderator is completely unknown to the research audience and cannot even be seen. This type of research gives the audience more freedom to speak because they think they are not being observed or judged. This model is used when the focus group is being conducted in an open environment.

Moderator as a participant: In this type of a focus group, the moderator is known to the focus group or the people in the sample undergoing the study. In this study type, the end goal of the moderator is known to everyone. In this case, the moderator can play an active part in the discussion. But it is preferred if the suggestions given are limited so that it doesn’t influence the research outcome or sway the group towards a certain bias.

Participant as an observer: In this type of a focus group, the moderator completely indulges the participants and participates in the discussion. Even though the participants discuss in entirety with the observer, they do know that the observer is also a researcher. The moderator in this case though is a family member or a close friend and hence that doesn’t deter the participants from a discussion.

Complete participant: This focus group method is used when deep level insights into the research topic are required. In this case, the researcher is completely in sync with the participants. The discussions are free flowing no holds barred and the researcher indulges in the discussion animatedly. In this research type, the participants don’t know the researcher or even that a research study is being conducted.

Focus Group Questions

There are multiple types of questions that can be asked in a focus group. Questions can be both, open-ended questions and close-ended questions. The questions can be bucketed under the following:

  • Engagement questions: These questions can be used to introduce the participants to the topic or subject and get them comfortable with the discussion. Some examples are, What is your favorite type of exercise?
  • Exploration questions: These questions are designed to get to the heart of the discussion and typically are open-ended. Some examples are, What are the pros and cons of exercise? How do you feel about yourself when you exercise? How do you feel when you don’t? What are the reasons that prevent you from exercising? What would encourage you to exercise more?
  • Exit questions: These questions are designed to see if any angle was missed during the discussion. Some examples are, Is there anything else you would like to say about why you do or do not exercise on a regular basis?

Sampling Methods for Focus Groups

The audience in the focus group is the most important aspect of the focus group. Collecting deep-level insights is possible only if the respondents have been carefully selected and they aid towards the data collection process as well as the end goal of market research.

  • Probability sampling: Probability sampling is a sampling method that selects random members of a population by setting a few selection criteria. These selection parameters allow every member to have equal opportunities to be a part of various samples. Probability sampling is then further divided into 4 major types that are used to derive the audience for the focus group. They are simple random sampling, cluster sampling, systematic sampling, and stratified random sampling:
  • Non-probability sampling: The non-probability sampling method is reliant on a researcher’s ability to select members at random. This sampling method is not a fixed or pre-defined selection process which makes it difficult for all elements of a population to have equal opportunities to be included in a sample. Non-probability sampling is divided into 4 major types. They are convenience sampling, judgemental or purposive sampling, snowball sampling and quota sampling.

Advantages of a Focus Group

The advantages of a focus group, are:

  • Focus groups are a cheaper means of obtaining information compared to individual interviews.
  • Participants are able to listen to responses of other participants and “feed off each other.”
  • The groups generally result in more data being gathered as participants are given the opportunity to rebut each other.
  • Compared to a quantitative survey, focus groups are able to gather more information about perceptions, attitudes, and experiences.