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The Elements of an Effective Focus Group

Running focus groups can give you a treasure trove of ideas, if you do it right!

Focus groups allow you to gather qualitative information about your customers, and gain insights into the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes of the people who interact with your company or organization. They can also help you identify and resolve possible problems in a cost-effective way.

Here are a few tips to help your focus group run smoothly, so you can get the most useful results possible and gather the information you need to grow your company:

A group of four young people
In a small group with similar characteristics, participants may relate well to each other, allowing for easy conversation. (Photo by Mimi Thian)

Keep it small

Ideally, a focus group will have at least four people, so that they can bounce ideas off one another, but no more than a dozen or you will be unable to hear from every individual.

Run more than one group

Rather than try to get a mix of people in one group, try to have several separate sessions, with each group representing people from one specific walk of life.

For example, if your company serves both stay-at-home moms and working moms, try to have one focus group for the stay-at-home moms and another session for the working moms. If the people in your group have a lot in common, they will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Choose your moderator carefully

The moderator plays an important role because she or he will set the tone for the entire discussion. The moderator needs to be able to ask the kind of open-ended questions that will get participants to talk and share their honest opinions.

You want a leader who is neither too passive nor too dominant in their conversational style.

If a moderator is too passive, the group dynamics might get skewed so that the results aren’t as useful as they could otherwise be. Some participants might naturally dominate the conversation and intimidate others so that they don’t share. A good moderator can prevent that from happening.

On the other hand, if the moderator dominates the conversation and inserts his or her own ideas and opinions into the conversation, that can render the results unusable.

Allow the conversation to flow naturally

The reason that focus groups are such a valuable market research tool is that, during the discussion, people will provide you with language and phrasing that you can use in marketing efforts, opinions on the products themselves, their thought processes and attitudes towards a problem or situation, and their beliefs and attitudes in general.

This information will come out in their responses. Don’t be too hung up on the questions themselves, or worry about whether the answers are correct. The participants might be considering the issues that you put before them for the first time, and they may need some time to let their opinions take shape. Give them the time that they need.

A meeting room set up for a focus group
Provide a comfortable setting, with good acoustics, for your group. (Photo by Pawel Chu)

Get a good recording and transcription

During the focus group you’ll need to stay in the moment and concentrate on facilitating a lively and productive conversation. You, or your moderator, may not have time to take notes or even remember exactly what was said.

Be sure to get a clear recording of what is said during the focus group. Make sure that all the participants are adequately mic’d, and that the microphones are used properly. Minimize background noise and crosstalk as much as possible.

At CastingWords, we help you get the most out of your focus groups, allowing you to preserve a record of the discussion and analyze it in greater depth after the event, searching the text for important keywords and phrases.

Ready to get started?

CastingWords offers Budget transcription for $1 a minute, a great value if you are not in a rush. If you’re on a schedule, try our 1-Week or 1-Day transcription service.

Our standard service provides a full transcript of the words spoken. We never paraphrase, but we do clean up ums and uhs, filler words, and false starts, for easier reading. Choose the full verbatim upgrade if you want to preserve every single utterance (such as ums and uhs, and every “like” and “kind of”).

The difficult audio upgrade is optional, but a good idea on most focus groups, due to off-mic or semi-mic’d speakers and frequent crosstalk. If you are able to minimize those factors, you may not need the upgrade.

Select the timestamps upgrade if you’d like time codes on each paragraph so you can easily find a given spot in the audio.