Beginner’s Guide to Focus Groups

Focus groups are a great weapon to have in you research arsenal. They are a great way to gather in-depth perception about your brand and get feedback on new ideas. I recently conducted a focus group as part of my IMC Campaigns course discussing my communication strategy and goals for my final project. Focus groups are an underutilized method because they seem complicated, however they are easier to conduct than you think.

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Recruitment

Because my target audience was millennials in my hometown, I was able to create a Facebook group and reach out to my friends and former classmates. However, if I was looking a different audience, I would have started outreach on social media and create an event page on a website like Eventbrite. Using a focus group facility/agency is one (pricier) way to insure you get the correct audience. Be sure to screen your group members before to ensure they meet their requirements. You want 8-12 people to participate in order to have a variety of opinions and create conversation. When hosting a focus group providing an incentive like a Starbucks gift card, free meal, or something else of monetary value for participants.

The next thing you will want to consider is your location. You’ll want an environment that is comfortable and easily accessible. You can use a focus group facility, library, coworking space, or even a room at a community center or church. You want a space set up in a circle, square or “U” shape so that your participants can all see each other. If you plan on having them write anything you’ll want to provide tables and ensure you have any visual equipment necessary.

Preparation

Once you have picked your location and chosen your participants, it will be time to start your prep. The most important part of this is preparing the presentation or spiel you will be giving. You’ll also want to write out the questions you plan ask participants and organize them in a cohesive manner. How many you have depends how long your meeting will take place. You want to allow 5-10 minutes for discussion for each question so you can gather intel from the entire group. Also as part of your prep you will want to print any materials, purchase refreshments, and test out all the equipment you plan to use.

Moderating

Moderating a focus group is similar to moderating a Facebook page in that you want to set up ground rules with participants such as no interruptions, what type of answers you’re looking for, and how to civilly disagree. The first thing you’ll want to do is do an introduction of yourself, allow members to introduce themselves, and explain how the procedure of the meeting. As you dive into the questions be sure to not let any one (or two) members dominate the conversation. You’ll want to be weary of the time and keep things on schedule so you don’t go over your allotted time. Provide breaks when necessary and be sure to thank them for their time and provide any follow-up necessary.

Analysis

During the focus group, don’t worry about analyzing your data or even compressing it. Just write down as much as you can, whether you do that during the group or through video/audio transcription. Once you have all the data, then gather together similar thoughts and relevant information to make it easier to draw conclusions later. Be sure to note any major differences from group members with different opinions (i.e. older members felt this way or women preferred this approach). This data can help inform elements as complex as your overall communication strategy or as simple as font on a webpage.

Conducting a focus group is the most efficient way to get opinions from people who you can follow-up with. Personal interview also allow this but they are more expensive to conduct and take more time than a focus group. By gathering people in your audience together you can also see subtle differences within that audience and see how they may perceive slight differences. Getting open-ended answers is one of the best ways to understand how your brand is seen and where it should grow.

Hopefully the information provided can help get you started on conducting your first focus group and gathering intel on your brand.

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