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How to Conduct Market Focus Groups

People generally like to voice their opinions. You can take advantage of this and get some tough business questions answered by conducting market research with a focus group.

A focus group allows you to get consumer opinions and feedback, which helps with planning, marketing and improving your overall business. These groups are a great way to get honest opinions as part of a larger marketing research plan. They are helpful in finding out habits, trends, challenges, needs and attitudes of consumers, as well as testing any assumptions you may have.

Market focus groups are good because you get quick, direct responses from your target audience, allowing you to ask follow-up questions and engage in further discussion. While market surveys can also give you consumer feedback, focus groups tend to be more natural and honest.

How to Organize

  1. Before hosting a focus group, you must first decide what you want to learn and set goals. Consider upcoming product releases, current products and any ideas you may have for expansion, as well as what questions you can ask to improve your product and refine your marketing techniques.
  2. Determine your target market—this will be essential for understanding your desired audience and how they really think. Learn more about determining your target demographic here.
  3. Gather candidates and keep the group small. Six to twelve participants are recommended to give diversity, yet keep the group small enough so everyone can share opinions equally. You can find people online through a local Craigslist post, identify potential participants at a trade show, use a current customer list or even use a research database firm like L&E Research, which has lists of prospective participants within the demographics you need.
  4. Set a budget. Compensation for focus groups varies, but most people will not give their time for free. Consider how much you’re asking of your participants and what their time is worth (for example, a teenager will be more willing to join a focus group for less monetary compensation than an investor). If your ability to compensate is slim, you may also consider offering participants a free subscription or version of your product if it is useful to them.
  5. Find a facility to host your focus group; firms such as Qualitative Research Consultants Association or even just a hotel conference room will work well. The location should be comfortable, be accessible and encourage conversation. The meeting should not be at your place of business, since this can potentially skew results or appear biased.
  6. Schedule your event and invite your participants. Events typically last an hour or two and no more than three hours (otherwise, participants may lose focus). Focus groups should be held outside of normal work hours, as this allows for better attendance.
  7. The group will be led by a moderator who guides discussion. Choose this moderator wisely; they should be knowledgeable about your field, engaging, professional and neutral. You may also want to have another person appointed to take notes.
  8. Gather materials beforehand, such as notepads, pens, presentation materials (computer, projector, etc.), a script, nametags, refreshments and preferably seating at one table.
  9. Start the group with introductions, and lay out the agenda. Also, if the focus group is being recorded or witnessed through a one-way mirror, you must inform the participants of this observation (for video recordings, consider having them sign a release).
  10. Have four to seven questions prepared that are general and open-ended. The moderator should start with the easy questions and work through the list, being sure to leave time at the end for open discussion and questions. Encourage each person to speak so you get a diverse set of opinions. The questions you ask will vary greatly depending on your industry, but you can start off by having them interact with your product and giving feedback, or by asking them what similar resources they use (and why they like them).
  11. Repeat the focus group with other participants as needed and look for connecting themes—oftentimes you will notice that similar concerns, feedback or interests will emerge.
  12. Discuss and analyze the results. Identify trends and perceptions as well as contrasting opinions shared. Make a list of highlights that includes negative feedback. Include the moderator in this process to help you stay objective and professional.
  13. Make a report of conclusions and details to share. Address issues that arise, and prioritize actions that you will take in response to the focus group.

Tips

To get the most out of focus groups, consider these points:

  • Set goals so you can “focus” on those that are important. Narrow your focus with a very specific topic (such as a specific product or marketing technique), and develop your questions around this.
  • Develop a method for screening participants to make sure they are a representative example of their demographic.
  • Choose a good moderator to lead discussion: an experienced, unbiased third party may give the best results. To search for one who specializes in your field, check here.
  • Be flexible and ready to adapt and change, but always bring the focus back to the specific topic.
  • Schedule questions to give adequate time for answers and discussion at the end of the meeting. Some natural, helpful responses will likely come up this way.
  • Develop open-ended and neutral questions that are clear, and ask for opinions on the participants’ experiences.
  • Get full answers from participants. The moderator should ask “why” when necessary.
  • Don’t let one person dominate the conversation; make sure everyone responds to all questions.
  • Keep the group relaxed and focused. Don’t rush the responses.
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