Focus groups are defined as a gathering of deliberately selected people participating in a facilitated discussion with the intention of generating consumer perceptions of a particular topic or area of interest. In this way, focus groups are widely used in the social sciences, specifically in the area of marketing. These discussions should take place in an environment that is not threatening and responsive. Unlikeinterviews, which generally occur with an individual, a focus group allows members to interact and influence each other during discussion and consideration of ideas.
What is a Focus Group?
A focus group is a research method that brings together 6 to 10 people in a room to provide feedback on a product, service, concept, or marketing campaign. A trained moderator leads a 30-90 minute discussion within the group that is designed to gather useful information. The moderator arrives with an established list of 10-12 questions to be shared with the group and designed to elicit thoughtful responses from all participants. The moderator’s goal is to listen to everyone and encourage many different opinions and ideas to be shared.
Focus group participants are recruited based on their demographic, psychographic, or behavioral data and are generally not known to each other. To ensure that participants have captured the maximum number of different ideas or reactions, multiple focus groups are often organized, often in different cities. While the participants answer a question from the moderator, the moderator and / or other observers take notes.
History of the Focus Groups
Previously, Focus Groups were known 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 assess consumer perceptions and reactions, among other research applications.
Focus Group Format
During the focus group, the moderator leads participants through three different types of questions designed to collect as much information as possible. They include:
Engagement questions. These are easy questions asked from the start to introduce participants to each other, to make them more comfortable, and to familiarize them with the topic at hand, whether it’s reacting to a new ad campaign for coffee or thinking about driverless cars.
Scouting questions. Once the participants have started to relax and open up in the group, the moderator begins to ask deeper and probing questions about the topic and how the participants feel about it. These may include, “What makes you say that?” “And” What would be a better solution? ”
Exit the questions. After the moderator trusts that the group has shared everything they can, questions are asked to confirm that everything has been said. These may include, “Is there something I haven’t asked for that I should have?”
Focus Group Features
Focus groups allow alternative ways of obtaining consumer information without using a survey. Survey instruments tend to be viewed as scientific, particularly when they produce quantitative data. Surveys can be overused by those who lack confidence in other market research strategies. In this regard, focus groups have a clear advantage over other types of market research. In this way, they are flexible by design and take advantage of the ability of decision makers to speak directly to their clients. They provide practical information about customers’ knowledge of their brands, products or services. A good moderator who prepares well for a focus group will act as a representative for decision makers.
Focus Group Types
Dentro de la categoría general de grupos focales hay tipos de grupos más específicos que están diseñados para diferentes escenarios. Algunos de estos incluyen:
Mini focus groups. Fewer participants are used, reducing the number from 6-12 to four to five consumers.
Online focus groups. Consumers log into a website via video chat and participate remotely.
Two-way focus group. Focus groups are often held behind one-way glass, where researchers can take note of what’s going on. In this type of group, the whole group looks at another and comments on what they observe and hear.
Dual moderator focus group. Instead of a moderator in the room, there are two: one to facilitate discussion and the other to take notes.
Client participant focus group. When a representative of the company or product studied observes or participates in the discussion. In terms of collecting qualitative data from multiple respondents, focus groups are a popular market research tool.
Advantages of using the Focus Group technique
Focus groups provide immediate bulk responses
Unlike research techniques that rely on long-term data collection and interpretation, such as one-on-one interviews, written surveys, polls, or social media monitoring, marketing focus groups provide many direct comments at once, without need spend weeks gathering data or responses, then more time analyzing them. With (enough) pre-preparation, you can end up with a wealth of information about your product in the span of a day.
Face-to-face interactions provide richer information
In the case of marketing, doing it effectively has to do with communication. It makes sense, then, that some of the best ideas from the audience can be gleaned from in-person interaction. While written surveys or social media conversations about your brand can offer a great deal of clear audience sentiment, those pathways miss the potential of nonverbal cues that can add layers of meaning to a verbal exchange. Expert focus group moderators can learn a lot about how participants actually feel about a product non-verbally, such as through facial expressions and body language.
Results may be more understandable than data
There’s no doubt that big data has an important place in today’s marketing landscape, and technological advancements provide us with many tools to analyze that data efficiently. But putting names and faces on the public helps marketing teams engage with their consumer base on a deeper level, better equipping them to understand consumers’ unique weaknesses and get to know them with good products or services. The qualitative data generated by the focus groups are a great complement to more impersonal data.
Disadvantages of Focus Groups
No guarantee of depth or precision
While marketers hope to get honest answers from a random sample of average users, there is no guarantee that a focus group will provide as much honesty. Moderators and other volunteers can subtly affect participant responses; Volunteers may feel uncomfortable breaking the group’s opinion or “offending” the moderator. Also, the sample size may be too small to represent a larger population. Moderating bias, group pressure, and small sample sizes may affect the extent to which the sample size actually reflects the larger population, while the responses may not be as honest or insightful as with individual interviews.
Focus groups can be expensive
Successful marketing focus groups need highly qualified moderators who are able to ask questions and facilitate discussions impartially to get the most productive, helpful, and honest answers. This is the reason why most companies and advertising agencies hire a market research firm that specializes in focus groups. It can be expensive to hire the company and finance the production of surveys and product demonstrations, not to mention possibly paying participants for their time.
Uses of the Focus Group
They can be used in three ways in research design:
Independent: where focus groups are the only method of data collection and serve as the primary source of data.
Complementary: used to improve alternative means of data collection. This would generally be a precursor to a quantitative stage: determining the problems to be covered in the structured interview and giving an idea of the problems or opportunities being investigated.
As part of a multi-method design: where studies use multiple sources of data collection and no method determines the use of the others.
The changing nature of the Focus Group
Researchers use much smaller groups to conduct market research than in the past and with good results. Results when fewer focus group participants are used are often more profound and probe unconscious or unexpressed consumer preferences. Some of the analysis modes used for focus groups are radically different from the transcript-based analysis that was considered essential for focus group research in the past. Focus group participants have also become more socially diverse to reflect a globalized and interconnected audience. This requires a greater awareness and sensitivity towards the participants so that they feel welcome to share their true opinions during the focus group.
Focus groups are held as part of a series in which participants vary but the area of interest is consistent. Performing multiple focus groups can help smooth out irregular group differences. For example, when a particular group simply disagrees with the topic or the moderator. The purpose of a focus group is not to reach consensus, some level of agreement, or decide what to do about something. Focus groups are designed to identify consumers’ feelings, perceptions, and thoughts about a particular product, service, or solution. Focus groups are beneficial because they use qualitative data collection methods. Similar to real-life dynamics, participants can interact, influence, and be influenced. If you are conducting research where you require the use of focus groups, contact us.
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Martínez M. (1999). La investigación cualitativa etnográfica en educación. México: Trillas.
Chanfrault-Duchet MF (1996). El sistema interaccional del relato de vida. Traducción inédita en español. p. 4-7
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