Using Focus Group Method in Consumer Behavior Research

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Focus group is an important and valuable instrument for data gathering in advertising. In this article we present some particularities of applying this method in consumer behavior studies. We illustrate the main steps in planning and unfolding a focus group by examples from a project of developing a promotion campaign. We concentrate mainly on the process of implementing focus group (developing a questioning guide and proposing alternative modalities - projective techniques or group activities - to gather information).

KEYWORDS: focus groups, advertising, consumer behavior research, topic guide, questioning route.

INTRODUCTION

Focus group is a qualitative research method with a widespread use in various applicative fields (such as market research or non-governmental organization [NGOs] research), and a fairly moderated use in social sciences (mainly sociology and psychology) (Barbour, 1995; Baban, 2002; Boan, 2006; Goldman & MacDonald, 1987; Greenbaum, 1988; Howard, Hubelbank, & Moore, 1989; Powell & Single, 1996). Focus groups are group interviews (Morgan, 1998), "When you think about a traditional focus group, you probably have a picture in your mind of a group of people of the same gender and roughly the same age, sitting around a table with soft drinks, sharing their opinions on a specific topic, product or service" (Morrison, Haley, Scheehan, & Taylor, 2002, p. 82).

The method appeared in the field of social sciences at the end of the '30's, when research started to conceive alternative methods to interviewing and improving interviews, which that far were mostly based on questionnaires containing closed questions. Consequently, the obtained results could have been unintentionally influenced by some mistakes or lapses of the researcher. Slowly, open-ended questions have begun to be used, thus allowing participants to explain, comment and share experiences, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs. During the Second World War, researchers within social sciences started to apply the technique of indirect interviews (semi-structured interviews) in groups, thus settling the bases of the technique of focus group (Krueger & Casey, 2005). One of the most important papers regarding the beginnings and rationale for this method is Merton, Fiske and Kendall's (1956) The Focused Interview.

Although Merton's overall work on the field of sociology was acknowledged and appreciated by the research community, as frequently happens, this new method was not received with the expected enthusiasm. Nevertheless, even if academics have not exhibited accentuated interest towards the method, businessmen, being motivated by economical aspects, started to use and apply the focus group, beginning with the early '50s. One of the most frequent reasons for using it was that producers tried to find, in this way, new means by which they could enhance their products, thus stir the consumers' interest. During the 80's, academics started to rediscover the implicit strengths and advantages of focus group, borrowing a considerable number of practical strategies from market researchers, who by practical applications have already established a blooming industry, based mostly on focus group interviews. By all means, some of the practical applications had to be adapted to specific requirements, because they would not bring the expected benefits in academia and non-profit organizations.

As Morgan and Kruger (1998) state, "the history of focus groups can be divided into three periods. The earliest work was carried out primarily by social scientists in both academic and applied settings. Then, from World War II through the 1970s, focus groups were used almost exclusively in marketing research. Most recently, focus groups have come into common usage across a number of fields" (p. 37).

In marketing research, focus group is used to gather qualitative data from target groups of consumers. …