10 steps to effective focus groups
Focus groups are about listening. Listening is a skill many businesses often forget but focus groups will enable companies to sharpen their listening skills. Marketing staff often is focused on getting their message out rather than fully understanding what the stakeholders in the market have to say.
The pace of change in today’s markets continuously calls to question our understanding of markets, customers and the stakeholders that influence the market. Although many organizations are well disciplined in executing business plans, real questions many questions often go unasked. “Are we anticipating the changes that our customer and prospects see, and will our strategies today carry us into the future?”
Global business patterns coupled with changing expectations have created a wider spectrum of business options within market industry sectors. The challenge is to remain well tuned to market opinions and the expectations of customers. Consider the momentum (or hype) behind Internet of Things (IoT). Does my market want it?
One way to address the question is to conduct focus groups – either in person or virtually.
Focus Groups– “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – A primary marketing research technique designed to gather qualitative information and insights into issues in a market and the expectation of significant stakeholders. There are a number of ways to conduct such research efforts – blindly, under full disclosure – face-to-face or virtually. Regardless of the approach, choosing the right medium and preparing is critical to uncover valuable information and unique insights that inform business decisions. Any company in any industry can benefit if done well.
When creating an interactive group session, participants must be engaged to express their ideas and opinions, and/or address a specific issues or opportunity. Focus groups done well will:
- generate objective information as to how the market perceives a particular topic
- promote honest objective dialog
- provide insight into why certain opinions are held
- validate planning and design of new products and programs
- evaluate existing programs and market practices
Why is this primary research technique important? Because you can never assume you know what the market wants, what it needs or how behaviors will shape buying habits. Business history full of examples of significant product failures. In many cases, these products were ahead of their time and the market was not ready. The lesson here, be sure you are listening to your market. To learn more on how focus groups in your industry can improve your company’s listening skills, please contact us.
10 Steps to effective focus groups
- Brainstorm the desired outcomes from the focus group with a focus group project team. Why should we do this? What do we want to know? What can our targets tell us? How will we know the information is accurate and meaningful?
- Develop the goal and objectives for a focus group. Be specific. Define the goal in terms of outcomes that are measurable and observable. Note: Conducting 5 focus groups is not a goal statement!
- Determine the appropriate focus group medium to use – in-person or virtual. There are many things to consider – timing, scheduling, cost, access to targets, format, and incentives.
- Select & solicit target participants.
- Plan and execute all logistics. Selecting the right medium is critical to successful focus group outcomes. Planning must consider the optimal ways to engage an audience and incorporate the right incentive to assure meaning outcomes. Typically, the planning cycle can last 3 to 5 weeks or longer depending on the size and scope of the target sample.
- Prepare talking points and content for each focus group session. Remember, focus groups are about listening. Talking points and content must be structured to provide participants with a non-threatening environment to express and share ideas.
- Conduct sessions with a skilled facilitator. Once a focus group session begins, the facilitator’s role is paramount to successful outcomes. In all cases the facilitator must remain neutral to the information emerging from the session and assure that all participants have adequate opportunity to participate and/or respond throughout the process.
- Document/record group sessions. Someone other than the facilitator should assist in documenting the discussions of a session. Whether simply having a recorder “taking notes” or fully recording the session, the best option will depend on your target audience.
- Issue a formal thank you to all participants. Focus groups are about establishing relationships in the market. After the sessions are completed, send each participant a formal thank-you note and provide any additional information as appropriate. (Caution: This is not a chance to distribute unsolicited information!)
- Facilitate a review of findings with the focus group project team and prepare a final report to be shared with senior management.