Focus groups deliver useful insights if done right
Q: A business acquaintance of mine said she got some great feedback on a new product idea by using a focus group. I’m in the process of developing a new marketing strategy and I’m wondering if I should hold a focus group to make sure I’m headed in the right direction.
A: Focus groups can absolutely help. The group setting encourages the free flow of ideas, and the feedback is immediate. You’ll know right away if you’re headed in the right direction or if you should change course. You may even come away with approaches you hadn’t thought of that you can incorporate into your strategy.
But the key to a successful result is in the way you structure, manage and conduct your focus group. If improperly handled, you could have individuals who dominate the conversation, or on the other hand, the development of a strong group dynamic that quashes individual expression. With either situation, you won’t get an honest flow of opinions and suggestions.
One way to set up a focus group that you know will be effective is by hiring a professional marketing research firm to handle it for you. These companies have the facilities, trained personnel and resources to do it all and do it well. The problem may be the cost; using such a company can be pricey. If you can’t afford to outsource the entire focus group event, at least consider hiring a professional facilitator to lead the group, or a marketing professor from a local university to do the job. Work closely with the facilitator to make sure he or she understands what specific information you are hoping to gain from the group and can ask the targeted questions that will keep participants on-topic.
Plan on about a two-hour session, with time for introductions, an explanation of what the group is all about, and setting the ground rules. The group itself should be relatively small, around eight to 10 people, so that everyone gets a chance to chime in. And although you’re probably used to bouncing ideas off your friends and family, this is when you need people who are not familiar with you and your business to give you fresh insights into whether your proposed strategy will resonate. They should of course be representative of your target market.
Don’t think you need to be limited to holding just one focus group session. Holding multiple sessions with a diverse group of participants can better validate your results. And although many people are happy to participate in focus groups because it can be an interesting and even fun experience for them, you’ll want to compensate your group in some way, even if it’s just by providing lunch.
Jacqueline Taylor is deputy director of the Texas Gulf Coast Small Business Development Center Network, a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business. Information is intended to provide general guidance only. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.