Focus groups represent a form of qualitative research wherein people are asked for perceptions and opinions. For purposes here, we’re focusing on focus groups as they relate to advertising and marketing.
Ours is a love-hate relationship with focus groups as we both like and dislike them. For it has long been known in our industry that focus groups’ results are often only as good as the people participating in them and the information sought.
Perhaps the best reason to conduct a focus group lies in its ability to remove the “I think, you think” mentality. An ad agency bringing forth ideas says, “We think you should do this for these reasons;” to which the client replies, “I think you should do this.” A focus group, operating as an unbiased third party, is posed a series of non-leading questions in an effort to elicit information. Often times, the results are very enlightening; facets of a business or a brand message that the agency – nor the client – considered suddenly emerge help shape our message as we move forward with a client’s advertising and marketing campaign.
We used a focus group approach for a large mixed-use development project in Naples a few years ago. Rather than run the risk of the group being led astray by a single Type-A personality (see below), we opted for what we call the “across-the-desk” interview. Through the series of these interviews, we that the number one reason our prospects were considering a purchase in this development was due to the developer’s good reputation in the area. With this fact in mind, we tailored the message to be developer centric.
As a caution: be conscious of the fact that out of the group, one or two alpha dogs will undoubtedly emerge, and will likely take over the discussions. The rest sit there and nod in agreement, echoing the alpha dogs’ sentiments, which may not be a true reflection of the whole group’s opinion(s). When that happens, as moderator of the group, it’s important that you steer the conversation back to other members of the group.
And keep in mind that there are all kinds of research methods out there, both on and offline. Assess which may be best for you and go from there.