Focus groups are typically two to three hour sessions involving six to twelve people focusing on a subject matter of interest to their sponsors. They are moderated by a professional skilled in leading groups and questioning techniques to unearth opinions and reasons for those opinions both rational and emotional.
Where to Use Focus Groups
Focus groups are qualitative and not quantitative in nature. They provide in-depth information on a particular subject as opposed to being able to quantify or estimate the percentage in the market that holds a particular view. Quantitative research is used if this is the goal.
Focus groups can be used as the sole means to guide communications efforts. They provide an opportunity to hear the words or vernacular that people use and can identify words or phrases that resonate with people. For this reason focus groups can be very effectively in developing communication campaigns or testing communication concepts with participants in a draft stage before they are released.
Focus groups are also very useful in guiding quantitative research such as phone or on-line surveys. The focus groups, as part of a research plan, can be used to develop the questions that would be used in quantitative surveys.
Targeting and Recruiting
It is important to determine the demographic profile desired for the focus group. If the number of focus groups being used are small 3 to 5 groups) than a diverse representation of the targeted market are included in each group. If the clients budget affords more focus groups (> 5 groups) than some groups could be recruited based on certain demographic profiles to get a better understand differences and similarities between demographic groups.
Role of the Moderator
The group dynamics can actually be very useful to learning about the opinions that will be encountered in the greater population. A skilled moderator will bring out these opinions among the various personalities by letting opinions be challenged respectively by others in the group. Some people in the group may be very vocal and others very quiet. It is the role of the moderator to make sure the group is not dominated by some people and that those reticent to speak are encouraged to do so. A professional moderator will have a focus group plan that has been agreed to with the client and during the group may use various techniques, exercises and visuals to aid. The more interesting a focus group the better engagement of the participants.
Focus groups are recorded, either audio recorded or if the facility permits audio/visual recording. Depending on the location and the availability of focus group facilities with one way glass, clients and others can observe the focus group in action. The moderator typically reviews the recordings or transcripts of the recordings and summarizes the findings of the focus groups in a written report or presentation.