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Blog / Market Research

Turn Opinions Into Insights With Focus Groups

  • What is a focus group?
  • How do I run a focus group successfully?
  • How can focus group learnings help my business?
Turn Opinions Into Insights With Focus Groups

The life of a marketer is full of questions like, “Do people like my product?” and “Is this campaign working?”

That’s why getting feedback from customers is so important. It helps you determine whether or not you’re on the right track, and which areas you can improve. Without feedback from real customers, you’ll always be left wondering.

You can gather customer feedback by doing market research and running surveys or focus groups. But first, you have to make sure you pick the methods that will lead to the insights you need.

Imagine Pablo owns Pablo’s Pierogies, a company that offers a Mexican spin on the traditional pierogi. He’s created a new product, the “Krakow-Relleno,” and is wondering if he should stuff the pierogi with carne asada or chicken.

He decides to survey members of his target audience to find out what they prefer. The survey shows that 55% of people prefer chicken. But, to Pablo’s surprise, the chicken pierogi doesn’t sell. What information might’ve been missing from Pablo’s survey?

Focus groups are moderated discussions with members of your target audience who provide nuanced answers to questions about your brand, product, or marketing.

Pablo's survey results only indicated a small group of customers' overall preferences. It didn't delve into the reasons why people would buy the product. To get deeper insights into his customers' preferences, Pablo should consider running focus groups.

They allow you to have in-depth, casual conversations and ask follow-up questions that can help you gain insights, both expected and unexpected.

But, before you get into a room with a load of strangers, you should set a goal for the discussion. The more concrete you are about your goal, the more useful the feedback will be. In other words, set a focus for your focus group.

Identify specific areas in your marketing efforts or business plan that you want to get insights on, and would like participants’ feedback on. It could be creating new messaging or improving a certain aspect of a product.

After you’ve set your goal, you should decide who’s going to participate in your focus group.

Determine the demographic you want to hear from. Keep in mind that not every segment of society needs to be represented. For instance, having recent college graduates participate in a focus group about retirement homes isn’t very useful.

Once you’ve identified your target audience, you’ll need to find actual people. Use your company’s social media channels or your business network, or hire an agency that specializes in research and focus group recruiting.

Aim to have 8 to 10 participants per focus group. Have them sign consent forms to avoid legal complications. The form should clearly state what information from their responses will be used, and how and where.

Compensation of up to $50 an hour or the equivalent (gift cards, coupons, etc.) per participant is common practice. It ensures that the process is professional, and that your participants will be active contributors. And yes, you should always pay participants, whether you like their feedback or not.

You have a million questions you want to ask, but 10 per session is the ideal number. Any more and you’ll start noticing participants’ eyes glazing over.

Because you are limited to asking a set number of questions, it’s important to structure them in a way that propels the discussion forward.

Try to use these 3 types of questions:

  1. ENGAGEMENT Introductory questions to get the group thinking and comfortable with the subject.
  2. EXPLORATION Specific questions that get into the core of the discussion.
  3. EXIT Final questions that serve as a recap and to make sure everything was covered.

Now that you know how to find participants and what types of questions to ask, let’s look at how to successfully run your focus group.

Keep it short and to the point. A session should last between 45 minutes and an hour. Any longer, and the discussion can get repetitive, and people start to lose focus. But, if the sessions run longer, make sure there are plenty of breaks and snacks.

During the discussion, make sure everyone’s voice is heard. If someone is dominating the conversation, direct questions at participants who aren’t as vocal.

Consider using a moderator and an assistant. A moderator is good at facilitating the discussion and engaging with participants. The assistant will take notes and make sure recording is set up properly.

Some facilities offer one-way mirrors. They allow you to take notes and catch pieces of information the moderator might’ve missed. Just take into consideration that a one-way mirror can make some people feel suspicious and self-conscious.

Run 3 to 4 focus groups to make sure all your questions are answered, and that you’ve heard a variety of opinions. You’ll know you have run enough sessions when the ideas and opinions start overlapping and new ideas don’t surface.

If you’re a small business and don’t have the resources to run professional focus groups, consider doing in-depth interviews with selected customers. This might not surface as many insights as focus groups, but they can still be useful for learning about your brand and marketing efforts.

Once you’ve run your focus groups, it’s time to analyze the information and use it to help your business and marketing efforts.

Take your recorded focus group sessions and have them transcribed. This will help you organize responses according to participants and group number.

Then group them into different categories: “positive,” “negative,” “indifferent,” and “unaware.” This helps you see what trends and themes emerge in each category.

This information should be used as a roadmap to guide you as you make adjustments and improvements to your business and marketing.

References: Google Webmasters, Think With Google, Google Primer

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