6 Tips for Successful Focus Group Research
Focus groups are the most commonly used market research tools in use today. Unfortunately, some groups turn out to be very disappointing to the clients as they did not achieve the objectives for which they were conceived. This is particularly concerning in that focus groups can cost $6,000 to $10,000 per two hour session depending on the target audience included in the research.
Having conducted over 3000 groups in my lifetime, I believe it is relative easy to ensure a successful result if a few basic guidelines are followed. Here are a few that I feel are most important.
1. Ensure that their has been adequate planning before the groups occur. Specifically, this involves the selection of the criteria for the participants, the number of groups to be conducted, and the very clear objectives of the sessions.
2. Hire a very experienced moderator who can guide you through the process and help to refine the objectives of the sessions to ensure they are realistic. An experienced focus group moderator should have conducted several hundred groups for a variety of different organizations, and also should have a marketing background so they can help to interpret the output of the groups in such a way that the information is most useful for the client.
3. Be sure that focus groups are the right methodology to address the question you are trying to research. Focus groups are a great marketing research technique, but they can not do everything. Sometimes you need to utilize other types of research such as quantitative methodologies, ethnography or perhaps no research at all.
4. Develop a detailed discussion guide with the moderator that provides an excellent outline of the topics to be covered in the research, the techniques the moderator will use to elicit the information, and an estimate of the timing that each section of the guide is anticipated to occupy.
Importantly remember that the moderator guide is only a “guide”, and an experienced leader will understand when to deviate from the guide, when to eliminate some parts that are included, and when it is important to spend more or less time than planned on specific section.
Further, the guide should be modified after each day, to reflect the learning from the first few groups, so the follow up sessions will be more productive.
5. Provide an in-depth briefing to the client observers who attend the session to view the proceedings from the back room. It is likely that people come to groups that were not included in the development of the guide, or even the establishment of the objectives of the sessions, and it is essential that they are brought up to speed as to what the research they are observing is intended to accomplish.
6. Finally, pay what is required for the moderator to develop a full report from the sessions. If you have selected a qualified moderator you should benefit significantly from the conclusions and recommendations provided by this individual. It is one thing to summarize the “findings” (facts) from the groups, but the really good moderators are able to provide “conclusions”, which are interpretations of what the facts mean in light of the objectives of the research, and also “recommendations”, which are the most appropriate next action steps that are indicated in light of the conclusions.
In summary, focus groups are a really important type of market research. They can do many things for a product or service marketing effort, but you must have the right moderator, do the appropriate planning and leverage the experience and skill of the moderator to help interpret the results.