15 Tips for Getting the Most out of Focus Groups

Research is simply a process to get inf focus group participantsormation and insights you don’t have that you need.

After you have reviewed all of the information you do have, and you find you still have unanswered questions, you may need research. In the initial stages of a product or service offer, focus groups are often conducted. Focus groups are exploratory and qualitative in nature. Since you are looking to learn something and not to quantify findings, it is better to talk to people in-depth and focus on specific topics of conversation to get quality and quantity of learning.

Consumer-driven insights can move your business forward because your customers and prospective customers want to help you provide a better product or a service they want or need. And, people love it when you ask their opinion! Think about it. If a company seeks selects you from hundreds of other people and offers to pay you for your opinion, would you feel pretty special? I’m just saying –don’t be afraid to ask your customers for help.

You can ideate with consumers, or find un-met needs, or even improve a product because there is a competitive product out there with a better idea and you didn’t even know until you discovered it while conducting exploratory research. You may have heard the saying “innovate or die”. We know it well here at Mindspot, where we specialize in online research –with the internet’s speed of information, Facebook connecting the world, and new ideas posted in 140 characters or less on Twitter, we have to be nimble and quick.

Perhaps, your product or brand positioning (you know, that place where your business, product, or service resides in the mind of your customer relative to your competition) is no longer relevant. Focus groups are a great forum to explore potential positioning statements, concepts, or ideas.

15 Tips for Getting the Most out of Focus Groups:

  1. Keep an open mind. If you have already made up your mind and there is nothing that can make you change your mind, you don’t need focus groups.
  2. Teach internal stakeholders (your boss, the advertising agency, the CEO) the benefits of exploratory research with customers – it is an opportunity to listen. Companies that listen to their customers are companies that win.
  3. Define who you really want to talk to and learn from. Is it your current customers, is it a new market segment of customers, or is it your competitor’s customers?
  4. Define your key objectives. If you only learn one thing from your customers what do you want to know?
  5. Ask objective questions and don’t lead the witness. A leading question will get you a pre-determined answer in most groups. “Hey how much do you all like this great new product?” versus “Here is a potential product that company XYZ is considering offering to people like you – what are your thoughts?” I could write about how to ask questions forever, and that’s a long time, perhaps another time.
  6. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback. If you get negative feedback it doesn’t mean the moderator or the participants suck (to use a marketing term). It means you now have the opportunity to know that your idea, concept, or advertisement may be polarizing or even poorly received by your target audience. With this comes the opportunity to make it better.
  7. Don’t take it personally. If you get too attached to the creative or the idea you will miss the opportunity to have a winner. If you conduct a number of groups and your creative ads, commercials, etc. do not resonate with the consumer, be ready to make changes. It is always better to spend a few dollars on research versus spending the big bucks developing a campaign and having it bomb. Most clients do not allow their advertising agencies to have many in-market disasters. And the post-mortem on the campaign that bombed will likely be conducted by another agency.
  8. Don’t be afraid of losing control (within reason). If your focus group participants are really taking an idea and running with it (It’s called a run). Let ‘em talk! You will learn more than if you asked the questions. Just watch your time.
  9. Be polite. Always say thank you. Be considerate of participant’s time –they don’t have to do this.
  10. It’s OK not to say please. You are in control and a trusted guide, and most focus groups are paying gigs for focus group participants. Your participants are there to do what you say and help you. If you say please it makes not helping or doing a particular exercise an option –and it’s not. This is not impolite. Really. It assures your participants you have a plan for the next 2 hours and they will know what is expected of them. You are there to guide them and make it easy.
  11. Dress for the front room – not the back room. If you are moderating in-person focus groups and you have people watching and helping in the back room don’t dress for them! If your participants are showing up in jeans and tennis shoes –wear jeans and tennis shoes. You’ll blend in, which is what you want to do. Consider it…for most people, it is easier to talk to people who are like them. If you want to impress the back room – do a good job.
  12. Have a great discussion guide. Not a good discussion guide –I said a great discussion guide. Why is good not great enough? Because this is where the guts of the discussion reside and where you should spend a significant amount of your time up-front thinking about the best ways to introduce your topics and get the most relevant and insightful information possible from the people who are showing up to help you get the answers.
  13. Ask for clarity. If you don’t understand participant feedback during a group, ask clarifying questions. “Can you give me an example of how that works?” Don’t fill in the blanks. You will be wrong.
  14. Say it twice. Not everyone thinks the same way and if a concept is abstract or difficult to grasp say it once, then say it again a different way and use an example.
  15. Determine the type of group you want to conduct:

a. Online: These are fast from start-to-finish, high degree of sharing due to anonymity, more data collected and less expensive than in-person groups.

b. In-person: Use when it’s important for your respondent to physically touch and/or use a product or when you have everyone in one location.
c. Hybrid (a combination of in-person and some online groups): Often used when people are getting comfortable with using online groups. Then they usually switch to online groups for the next project.

To make sure you get the most out of your focus groups you can always call us for advice. We normally do not self promote on our blog and this time it’s necessary! Why? We have a special Earth Day Promotion and you can help save the planet. Seems like a good reason.

The author of this Blog is the President of Mindspot Research and Business Solutions.

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