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Ten Focus Group Tips

Grace W. Ueng, CEO and Founder, Savvy Marketing Group

When I teach my "12 Steps to Success: How to be a Savvy Entrepreneurial Marketer" program, one of these steps is "Conduct Actionable Research" to validate market potential and test critical elements of naming, positioning, and key messaging.

I use the adjective "actionable" to emphasize that research should not be fielded unless management is ready to change behavior as a result of research results. Both quantitative and qualitative research can be helpful and often budget and timing as well as access to target audience can drive choice of methodology.

Regarding qualitative focus groups, top ten key tips to keep in mind:

  • Decide up front what business issues you desire feedback and if focus groups are the right market research methodology to pursue.
  • If budget allows, hire an external, experienced moderatorto create an on-target "discussion guide," facilitate each group smoothly, and then share key findings and recommendations. A good moderator will engage all participants, avoid group think from occurring, set ground rules, and create a safe environment in which participants can share their thoughts openly. If you use an in-house product or marketing manager, participants may not be as open to give critical feedback.
  • Carefully recruit participants based on which target audiences you need to better understand-e.g., current customers, future customers, lost deals. Clearly spell out the screener questions to ensure that the right people participate and that the participants are articulate.Yield rate will depend on the type of person you need to recruit as well as the stipend you are able to offer each participant.
  • Compensation options range from cash to discounts or free product/services from your company. Again, this decision is based on what is motivating to the person you desire to recruit and how tough it is to gain their undivided attention for one to two hours.
  • Identify the appropriate venue. Ideally, the site is a professional facility that is easy to locate, has a partition that allows the client to view into focus group without participants seeing the client viewers, and has capabilities for recording the discussion so the client's absent team members can listen later.
  • In addition, a neutral lobby that does not give away client name is ideal if you wish to remain anonymous to the participants. Often new product launches are kept quite confidential. On the other hand, some startups utilize focus groups with the idea of having the side benefit of lead generation. Captive participants learn a lot about a product or service offering through the concepts presented and questions asked might become future customers.
  • Conduct enough groups in key cities to be able to draw conclusions. If you have a product that is marketed in many regions, concentrating all the groups in just one city may not give accurate read.
  • Online focus groups can be explored to complement in-person focus groups, cover more cities, or make it easier logistically for all participants. Make sure that an online focus groups is the right vehicle for you as in some situations in person interaction cannot replace virtual interaction.
  • Equip the firm you hire to conduct focus groups with all the background information so they can formulate and prioritize the discussion guide most effectively. If you do not invest time with your partner, you may regret the results later after you have sunk the monetary investment as well as your time attending the groups.
  • If conducting many focus groups across many cities, debrief immediately after each evening of groups while fresh in your mind. Some of the value addition is the discussion between the moderator and the client that comes immediately after hearing from the target stakeholders.
  • Encourage all applicable team members to attend the focus groups to listen and view from behind the partition. Hearing first-hand what your stakeholders say is extremely valuable information. By attending live versus viewing the recordings later you can send notes to the moderator if something is missing.
  • Design appropriate focus group format based on your goals and budget. One-on-one interviews may be most appropriate when thoughts that are better solicited in a private setting or when many questions need to be directed in short period of time to each person.
  • Well-planned, well-executed focus groups should yield directional data which helps drive business decisions. Be sure to digest the findings, share with additional team members as necessary, and take appropriate action within a short time after the groups.

© 2007 Grace W. Ueng. All rights reserved.

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