Seven tips for running a successful focus group

“You want the truth .. you can’t handle the truth,” screamed Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise in the movie A Few Good Men.

Truth is, sometimes when we are so engrossed in our product/service/campaign we can’t see the wood for the trees and as a result judgements can be skewed.

This is where a Focus Group can take the leading role.

Invaluable in the marketing process they provide independent, in-depth research from the people that matter .. your customers (past, current, future) and, depending on the project, your team.

A focus group is used to gauge opinion on new products, campaigns, brand names, and services. Invited participants share their thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.

Focus Groups  are of real benefit helping to plan/confirm marketing strategy and tactics, develop key marketing messages and for some good old fashioned honest feedback.

Planning the event

You should give careful consideration to the venue. For it to work best you need a relaxed setting (i.e. not your boardroom!). Members of the group should sit in circles ideally without a table in between them so that the group is as relaxed as possible. You should aim to have 6-8 people in each group.

At the beginning of the session, participants will be advised (by the facilitator) what the purpose of the meeting is (without leading them) and thank them for their involvement. They will be asked to be as honest and open as possible as every idea and feeling around the issue should be heard.

Target Audience

For the best results, a representation of your target audience is required. This should include current, lapsed or potential customers. If you want to know how a campaign will connect, or how your new product will be used, you need to know from the horse’s mouth. It may sound obvious, however, it is often overlooked. On some occasions a sprinkling of none target audience will help give a different perspective, for example why are certain segments of your audience not engaging with you.

Organising Focus Groups within a company will help you achieve buy-in to a certain project, the participants welcome the opportunity to have input, and valuable feedback is provided.

Facilitator

Focus Groups require an experienced facilitator. They are worth their weight in gold. They will help the session run smoothly, keeping it on track. Facilitators are highly experienced in encouraging feedback. They will ask open questions to ensure the best response and results.

A facilitator will read the mood of the group and be able to sense the energy and concentration levels. They will encourage quieter participants to contribute, and ensure any lively debates are managed carefully and sensitively.

A good facilitator will use different techniques to get the most from the session. They may for example ask the participants to record their answers in written form as well as verbally in an open session. They will encourage members of the group  to talk about their views in more detail.

Generally the facilitator will record answers on a whiteboard/flipchart so that all participants can see the information being recorded. This also acts as a visual prompt.

Objectives

What is it that you want from your focus group? What do you want to know?

How will your audience connect emotionally with a new brand? How will they interact with a new product? How will they feel about a new campaign? Whatever the objectives are, you should  be clear from the outset what you want the outcomes to be. The facilitator will ensure that the session is formed around achieving these objectives.

Timings

Allow between 45-60 minutes for a session. This should be enough time to gather opinion and understand the issues without participants losing interest. The questions or issues you have should be planned around these timings, allowing enough time for the outcomes to be uncovered.

Key  Messages

Your focus group can help identify whether the key messages are working as you want them to be i.e. whether they are having the desired impact. Alternatively, focus groups can help identify the key messages that they would respond to in a real life situation.

Results

A summary report should be produced for each focus group you hold. The information should be recorded in a consistent manner with the criteria and objectives clearly outlined and recorded. The data gathered will need skill and expertise to analyse.

Focus Groups are an essential part of the marketing mix, and when run correctly the information and insights they uncover are invaluable.

It may not always be the truth you thought it was, but you’ll feel far more capable of handling it.

The truth is, after all, out there …   (oops that’s a different film altogether 😉

Karen Lambert is an experienced strategic marketer and Managing Director at Happy Creative, a full service marketing agency based in Blackpool, Lancashire.

Happy Karen
Happy Karen
Karen Lambert is the Chief Happy. After Eights and a win for the Clarets make Karen happy.
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