Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Focus Groups Offer Candid Feedback in Research Forum

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Focus Groups Offer Candid Feedback in Research Forum

Article excerpt

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 of 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 marketing 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 abilities 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/ den ambiance, replicating the informality of the home. Mood lighting and the serving of alcoholic refreshments are sometimes employed in order 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 the roadmap and not be led astray by discussion of superfluous and/or irrelevant matters. * 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 instances. * 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 more, depending upon their profile), facilitator's fee and sundry charges such as videotaping, refreshments, etc. …

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