Focus groups can provide you with the insight to improve products, prioritize development, and elevate communications. With the benefit of real customer feedback, your strategy and development will be much stronger. High impact focus groups are not easy. Researcher Gavin Johnston of Marketing Profs says, “The central problem with traditional focus groups is that they’ve become a fixture in consumers’ minds. The result is that consumers have clear cognitive models of what to do when they’re part of focus groups, which makes their answers sound canned and sterile. When you change the dynamics of the focus group, participants think and respond differently, producing information that is much richer and thus more usable and profitable.” Below we share tips for successful focus groups.
1) Recruit the Right Mix. If you want to learn the perspective of a few different segments, it’s best to separate them out. For example, your product might appeal to 20-something young professionals and 30-something families. By separating them into different groups, you will see a clear contrast in their responses and thinking.
2) Over-Recruit. Generally, we suggest focus group sessions of approximately 8 people (no less than 5 and no more than 10). Recruitment of 12 to 13 respondents should yield you 8. If you are fortunate and don’t have any no-shows, then you’ll want to compensate and turn away extras.
3) Prepare. You should have clear objectives of what you want to learn in the focus groups. Create a moderator guide with specific questions and areas of follow-up. Then be ready to make adjustments in real-time based on how the focus group evolves.
4) Use Visuals. Take your focus group to the next level by using visuals. Print out large-scale images or mood boards that represent the overall look and feel of the brand. Or bring in magazines and ask your respondents to pick out the photos that represent them or their ideal brand in the category.
5) Show Product. Elicit more robust and specific feedback by sharing product. For example, if you are researching luxury linens, you should bring sheets of your company and the competitors. Push the conversation: How do your customers evaluate these products? What role does packaging have in the decision making process?
6) Have respondents write-down answers to a few key questions. You may find that one or two over-eager respondents are dominating the conversation while there are a few quieter respondents. To help level the playing field and make sure you get feedback from the entire group, sprinkle in a few questions where you ask for written answers. For example, write down the 3 adjectives that describe brand X. Then, go around the room and ask each respondent to read off their answers and explain their thinking.
7. Force Choices and Sum Up Each Section. In 1.5 hours, you’ll hear a lot of ideas and feedback. The challenge is to distinguish the noise from the real insight. As you hear interesting feedback, hone in further. In the example of luxury sheets, if respondents say that they like the classic look and quality feel, ask them which is more important. For example, would they purchase sheets that feel like great quality even if they don’t have a classic look? Or is the classic look a need-to-have, and the great quality negotiable? Before moving onto completely new topics, sum up key learnings, and ask respondents to agree and clarify.
8. Make It a Conversation. It can be difficult to get 8 strangers to completely open up to each other, especially if they feel like they are being judged. The moderator should be as approachable as possible (generally business casual over suit and tie) and should create a positive, fun, flowing conversation. For the focus group, the respondent is the expert, so treat them as such. Ask them to clarify interesting statements just as you would in a normal conversation.
9. Keep It On Track. Although 1 to 1.5 hours seems like a long time for a focus group, the time will go by quickly. Be sure to manage your time and keep respondents on topic. If you are losing focus, pause the conversation and refocus everyone on the issue at hand. If one or two people are dominating the conversation, politely suggest that others get involved in the conversation.
10. Record Everything. The moderator will not be able to take notes, so it is critical that you have a way to record everything. If you are using a focus group facility, there will likely be a video or audio recording available. In other settings, you can set up your own recording or have an assistant take notes.
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