Every month I take on the role of a focus group facilitator, and
over the course of the last 20 years I have been a participant,
viewer and facilitator for hundreds of such events.
There seems to be a growing army of complaint about the probity
focus group technique, yet I'm not too sure that I understand why.
For decades focus groups have been one of the most popular
methodologies in conducting qualitative research. They allow
marketers to eavesdrop on consumers as they think about and discuss
the product or the issue. If conducted properly, they allow
reliable, diagnostic feedback and provide insight as to how
strategy should be designed and executed.
The methodology works well for a variety of research purposes,
including brand/product positioning issues, advertising and copy
development feedback, new product introductions, etc.
What is a focus group?
It's a collection of customers/consumers chosen according to
demographic criteria, who are encouraged to provide feedback and
opinion in a one-and-a-half to two hour informal session facilitated
by a moderator skilled in research technique, including the
to interview, probe, listen and synthesize. Meeting sessions are
normally conducted in a special facility where marketing
representatives (the client, the ad agency, etc.) view the
proceedings through a one-way mirror. The marketing onlookers are
able to hear consumer opinion with the visual perspective attached,
i.e., body language, group dynamics, interactive behavior -- all the
elements that are missing from a cold, typewritten summary. Other
important elements also are involved in the process.
* Mood: Room layout can vary. Some facilitators will conduct
their sessions boardroom style. Others will demand a living room/
ambiance, replicating the informality of the home. Mood lighting and
the serving of alcoholic refreshments are sometimes employed in
to set the scene and establish a tone that encourages truth and
candor from the participants.
* Recruiting guidelines: Participants are recruited from random
population lists, but according to specific profile needs, e.g.,
race, sex, marital status, household income, purchasing behavior.
* No-shows: The ideal number in a group is eight to 10, in order
to provide the most favorable discussion dynamics. However, because
of late minute no-shows, more participants are normally recruited,
i.e., 12 to 14 per session.
* Facilitation guide: The facilitator will guide the discussion by
following a moderators guide, which outlines the key areas to be
probed and issues to be discussed. Participants are unaware of the
guide, but the facilitator is acutely aware of the need to follow
roadmap and not be led astray by discussion of superfluous and/or
* A permanent record: All sessions are audiotaped and most are
also videotaped with the aid of a hidden camera. Written summaries,
including key findings and conclusions, are also prepared in most
* Cost: A standard consumer focus group involving eight to 10
participants can cost in the vicinity of $4,000 to $5,000, a
reasonable amount to pay for quality feedback. That cost includes
facility rental, recruitment cost (to locate the participants),
participant cost (participants will be paid from $40 to $200 or
depending upon their profile), facilitator's fee and sundry charges
such as videotaping, refreshments, etc. …