In-Focus: Focus Groups
Focus groups are a form of qualitative research, commonly utilized when testing consumer preferences and trends. These typically entail conducting guided or open group discussions with ten or less participants (an average of 5 to 6 participants in each group is typically recommended). Several focus group sessions are typically conducted in order to diminish any outliers or irregular group differences.
The purpose of the focus group is not to achieve consensus on a topic, but rather to ascertain the reactions or perceptions of the participants. As the views gathered from the participants are meant to be indicative of the target segment, it is vital that the participants be representative of the target segment. This ensures that the information gathered is relevant to the research objectives.
When executed properly, focus groups can be highly beneficial. For instance, they can provide clients an opportunity to gain immediate input from people with differing perspectives. It is also believed that by having an open discussion, participants are more likely to answer honestly than if they were asked a direct question. Similarly, just as in real life, the dynamics of a focus group allow for the participants to interact, influence and be influenced. Whilst there is a fear that this may lead to groupthink, having a good moderator (along with several groups) should reduce the chances of this happening. The flexibility and ability to cover a range of topics are also advantages commonly associated with this qualitative research tool.
As with any research tool, there are certain drawbacks to consider. Naturally due to the number of participants, the level of detail gathered from focus groups is less extensive than say, one-on-one in-depth interviews. Whilst focus groups are typically more difficult to manage as well as to analyze, this can largely be mitigated by selecting a moderator with considerable experience in this field.
Focus groups can prove extremely useful, especially when conducting research of a more exploratory nature, such as consumer research. When applied in the right way, whether as the sole research tool or along with other qualitative or quantitative tools, focus groups can improve or even identify new ideas worth exploring.
An interesting anecdote about focus groups:
In the 1950s, Chrysler found itself struggling with sales of its new convertible car. After conducting focus groups, the company discovered that women played a key role in the decision making process. As the women perceived convertibles to be reckless, they encouraged their husbands to opt for more “sensible” sedans instead. In order to tackle this perception, the automotive company adapted its advertising campaigns in order to target women whilst demonstrating the family-friendly appeal of its convertibles. The result? Sales increased substantially. The lesson? Never underestimate the power of women or focus groups!