A focus group involves having potential purchasers come together to have a guided discussion led by an experienced moderator. Each member of the group can share their opinions, criticisms, and other feedback about whatever you'd like to know. They all answer the same set of questions posed by the moderator to allow you to collect private feedback on behalf of your business.
A focus group can be an effective way for small businesses to conduct market research as part of the creation of a marketing plan. For example, a focus group can involve having a set of potential clients walk through an email marketing campaign, and then answer questions about their experience in order to help learn about the campaign's effectiveness and potential problems before implementation.
Participants can be chosen through random selection (to ensure representation of all segments of society) or specific selection (which solicits feedback from a particular audience.)
You can organize, manage, and conduct a focus group yourself, or hire a firm to manage the process for you.
When to Conduct a Focus Group
A focus group may be an appropriate market research tool for your business in the following situations:
- Developing a new product or service and want input during the development phase.
- Revamping a marketing approach and need an idea of what methods may be most effective.
- Discovering new ideas, formats, and approaches that you haven't thought of yourself.
- Learning the motivation behind a specific action or inaction of your customer base.
- Understanding a communication gap between your business and your target market
- Resolving a struggle to collect meaningful data from other methods of market research.
The Benefits of a Focus Group
Focus groups are a unique way to get into the heads of your target audience and receive feedback they might not provide otherwise. To get the most out of your focus group, the Small Business Administration suggests:
"During the session, try not to focus on your business idea. Startup business owners often use a focus group to justify their own ideas, rather than actually listening to participants’ input. Instead of talking about your product or service’s features, ask what benefits participants want from similar products or services. Try to elicit participants' needs, wants, pain points, budget, and purchasing process."
Some other benefits to a focus group include:
- People may be more candid in their responses than if you asked them a question directly.
- Group discussions can reveal potential competitors you may not have considered.
- A group setting can make participants more willing to share their insights.
- The actions, body language, and other non-verbal communication of the group can lead to useful information about your product or service.
- You can learn about the perception people have about your market or your specific products and services.
- Input from people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can offer unique marking insight and opportunities.
The Challenges of a Focus Group
A focus group can require significantly more time, energy, and money than a basic one-on-one interview or pre-formatted survey. There are inevitably going to be challenges when running a focus group, the biggest one being potential bias. In the book, "Research Marketing Problems and Opportunities With Focus Groups," written by J.L. Welch, he suggests there are opportunities for bias to creep into the results of group discussions:
"Some participants may feel they cannot give their true opinions due to the psychological pressure on them arising from their concern as to what other members of the group may think. Some may feel tempted to give opinions that they feel will be respected by the group. The presence of one or two 'dominant' participants may repress the opinions of others. Some may not feel confident about expressing an opinion. Some may prefer to submit to the opinions of others rather than cause conflict/argument to develop."
There are a few additional challenges to be aware of when planning a focus group:
- It can be difficult to find participants who fit into your target audience and are willing to participate.
- The quality of the discussion depends on the skill of the moderator.
- You have to reserve and prepare a location and typically pay participants for their time.
- It takes time to research questions, find participants, and plan the overall process.
- There is the risk of going off-topic if participants are able to confer with each other freely.
Regardless of your direction, conducting market research is a crucial part of small business planning. If you feel the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, a focus group can be one of the most effective market research activities to confirm and improve your business model.