A focus group is a small, but demographically diverse group of people and whose reactions are studied especially in market research or political analysis in guided or open discussions about a new product or something else to determine the reactions that can be expected from a larger population. The use of focus groups is a research method that is intended to collect data, through interactive and directed discussions by a researcher
It is a form of qualitative research consisting of interviews in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging.
- Gauging opinions, feelings, and attitudes about a product, service, marketing campaign, or brand
- The dynamic created by a small group of carefully recruited people, when guided by a skilled moderator, can provide insight into themes, patterns, and trends.
- Allows participants to openly share experiences, perceptions, wants/needs, and fantasies.
- Design-related inquiries may include:
- Reviewing processes that take place over time
- Explanations of what is not desirable about the current state
- Uncovering the underlying emotions while going through a given process
- Workarounds and hacks to improve the process
- Learning how members establish social capital
- Understanding constructs and mental models shared by group members
- Pay attention to the logic behind conclusions, stories, metaphors, and analogies, as well as how participants describe their experiences, preferences, and memories.
Focus Group Format
During the focus group, the moderator takes participants through three different types of questions designed to gather as much information from them as possible. They include:
- Engagement questions. These are easy questions posed early on to introduce the participants to each other, to make them more at ease, and to familiarize them with the topic to be discussed, whether it’s reacting to a new ad campaign for coffee or thinking about self-driving cars.
- Exploration questions. Once participants have begun to relax and open up in the group, the moderator begins to ask deeper, probing questions about the topic and how the participants feel about it. These might include, “What makes you say that?” “and “What would be a better solution?”
- Exit questions. After the moderator is confident the group has shared all that it can, wrap-up questions are posed to confirm that everything has been said. These might include, “Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have?”
Variants of focus groups include:
- Two-way focus group – one focus group watches another focus group and discusses the observed interactions and conclusion
- Dual moderator focus group – one moderator ensures the session progresses smoothly, while another ensures that all the topics are covered
- Duelling moderator focus group (fencing-moderator) – two moderators deliberately take opposite sides on the issue under discussion
- Respondent moderator focus group – one and only one of the respondents is asked to act as the moderator temporarily
- Client participant focus groups – one or more client representatives participate in the discussion, either covertly or overtly
- Mini focus groups – groups are composed of four or five members rather than 6 to 12
- Teleconference focus groups – telephone network is used
- Creativity groups
- Band obsessive group
- Online focus groups – computers connected via the internet are used
- Phone/ web focus groups – live group conducted over the phone and online with 6 to 8 participants
Advantages of focus groups
Focus groups provide a valuable method to gather customer feedback and opinion on different ideas and concepts. The format of a focus group session can be replicated to some extent and can, therefore, be taken around various geographical regions to provide high numbers of participants and a good spread of demographics. When sessions are observed by members of a client organisation, a focus group can provide invaluable insight into who their audience really is.
Disadvantages of focus groups
Focus groups have come under some criticism for their inability to remove the potential for ‘group think’ where some participants will be swayed by the opinions of other more dominant members and feel under pressure to conform. In our research, we have often found that what people say they do is often very different from what people actually do, therefore reliance upon focus groups alone can be misleading when trying to uncover true customer behaviour.