Focus Groups

When it comes to primary data collection, there are many methods marketers can use. One of them is focus groups. A focus group is an interview method where a moderator interacts with participants to collect their opinions on a topic. However, there is more than one way to conduct a focus group interview. In today's explanation, you will learn about the different types of focus groups and how they are carried out.

Focus Groups Focus Groups

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Table of contents

    Focus Group Definition

    A focus group is a primary research method where the researcher selects a group of customers to interview. Its purpose is to gather data on people's perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, or product feedback.

    A focus group often consists of one moderator interacting with two or more participants. However, there can be two moderators, one directing the discussion and the other observing.

    Focus groups' participants can be chosen based on location, age group, status, gender, job titles, etc.

    A focus group is a primary research method used to collect opinions from a group of people.

    The main benefit of a focus group is that it allows researchers to collect insightful data while connecting with the customers. However, it may not work when the participants are shy or unwilling to give information. Thus, researchers need to take into account the type of customers before adopting focus groups as a research method.

    Types of Focus Groups

    Depending on the number of participants and moderators, focus groups can be split into many types. Typically, there are five types of focus groups.

    Mini-Focus Groups

    As the name suggests, mini-focus groups are carried out in small groups. When the number of participants is high, the moderator can split them into smaller groups of 3-5 people. This allows everyone to engage in a discussion and voice their opinions. Later, each group can share the final idea/opinion/solution they come up with and discuss it with other group members. Mini-focus groups can save a lot of time and effort in conducting focus groups.

    Two-Way Focus Groups

    Two-way focus groups include a moderator interacting directly with a group of participants. During the discussion, the moderator can ask or answer any question that the participants might have. This type of focus group is most effective when the number of interviewees is small, and the discussion topic is specific.

    Dual-Moderator Focus Groups

    In this type of focus group, there are two moderators. One will interact with the participants, while the other will observe the discussion and handle the technical aspects of the interview. This kind of focus group is more effective than the one-moderator focus group as it ensures the moderator can pay full attention to the participant without taking notes or reading her body language.

    Dueling Moderator Focus Groups

    In contrast to dual-moderator focus groups, dueling-moderator focus groups include two moderators interacting with the participants simultaneously. Both will ask questions, engage, and observe the participants' behavior. The advantage of dueling moderator focus groups is that they can give more diverse viewpoints and minimize subjectivity in research.

    Respondent-Moderator Focus Groups

    Unlike the other types of focus groups where the moderator comes from inside the company, moderators in respondent-moderator focus groups are the participants themselves. One participant will be asked to become a group leader and moderate the discussion.

    Online Focus Groups

    A subcategory of a focus group is an online focus group. This kind of focus group involves a moderator and participants interacting via the Internet. Video conferencing tools are often used to carry out online focus groups. Some examples include Zoom and Google Meet. Online focus groups are more convenient than traditional focus groups as they remove time and location constraints and allow the company to interact with multiple participants in real-time.

    Check out our explanation of Online Focus Groups to learn more.

    Traditional vs Online Focus Groups

    Traditional focus groups may be suited to the older generations who are more comfortable talking face-to-face. Meanwhile, online focus groups can be applied to the tech-savvy and younger audience accustomed to modern technology. The latter is less time-consuming and can be conducted anytime, anywhere, whereas the former can give the researchers more opportunity to observe the participants' body language and engage with them deeply.

    Types of focus group interviews

    Most focus groups take place in the form of interviews. The three most common types of interviews are structured, unstructured, and semi-structured interviews:

    • Structured interviews are made up of an ordered list of questions. Most of them are closed-ended and expect customers to answer yes or no, or give a short answer.

    • Unstructured interviews consist of an unordered list of questions. These questions tend to be open-ended and invite the customers to give more specific details.

    • Semi-structured interviews are a mixture of both structured and unstructured interviews.

    Check out our explanation Interview in Research to learn more.

    The Advantages of Focus Groups

    Focus group is a popular method in market research not only because of the easy setup but also the insightful information that they can provide. Here are the most common focus group benefits:

    Focus groups: insightful data

    A focus group is a qualitative research method. It collects in-depth information about customer behavior, attitudes, and perceptions.

    A qualitative research method is a research method that collects data on opinions and personal experiences rather than numerical facts. Check out our explanation of the qualitative research method to learn more.

    Compared to other methods like surveys and questionnaires, focus groups allow participants to express themselves more freely and elaborate on their answers.

    Participants can also interact with the interviewer in real-time and thus ask questions.

    Focus groups: body language observations

    Focus group interviews are often conducted in person. This allows the researcher to observe the participants' body language and adjust the conversation to be more in tune with them. Watching the eye movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions also helps the researcher see if the participant is confused, or needs more prompting to provide an honest answer.

    Focus groups: low costs

    Focus group interviews are also relatively cheap. There is little cost involved except renting out a location or hiring a moderator. In most cases, companies can use their own office as a meeting point and appoint HR personnel to conduct the interview.

    Focus groups: emotional connection

    Focus group interviewing allows the researcher to engage deeper with the participants. Some expert moderators can even turn the interview into a heated conversation and drive the best responses from the interviewees.

    The Disadvantages of Focus Groups

    Focus groups have many advantages, but that doesn't mean they are without disadvantages. Here are some challenges that researchers might face when holding a focus group interview.

    Focus groups: time-consuming analysis

    While the discussion can last from 30 to one hour, the following data analysis can take days. The researcher has to transcribe the discussion, underline key points, synthesize data, and then use the information collected to answer the research questions. In cases where the research question is not answered, the researcher has to conduct more interviews and use other research methods to collect more data.

    Focus groups: participants are shy or unwilling to give information

    Another issue may be that the participants are shy or not comfortable giving information. This poses a challenge for researchers in collecting honest opinions or sparking an interesting conversation. If the moderator is not careful, the participant may feel offended and refrain from entering future focus groups.

    Focus groups: difficulty in engaging a large group

    This is often the case in large focus groups. While interviewing more people means that researchers have more diverse opinions to analyze, it's hard to engage a large group of participants. There won't be enough time to interview everyone. Some people may be tuned out or distracted when waiting too long for their turn.

    Insightful dataTime-consuming analysis
    Body language observationsParticipants are shy
    Low costsParticipants are willing to give information
    Emotional connectionsDifficulty in engaging a large group
    Table 1. Focus group advantages and disadvantages. StudySmarter Originals

    Examples of Focus Groups in Marketing

    There are many instances where companies use focus groups in marketing research. For example:

    • Learn about customers' budgets and what is important to them before developing a marketing campaign.

    • Gather reviews for a recently launched product.

    • Ask customers about an issue they are facing and develop a solution to address that issue.

    • Discuss with customers what changes they want to see in the product.

    When done right, focus groups can offer marketers valuable customer insights about customer preferences, pain points, and how much time and money they are willing to spend on a product.

    Marketers can also apply focus groups in problem-solving. This can be done internally and externally. For example, a group of employees and managers can form a focus group and discuss an issue in a previous marketing campaign. In the case of external focus groups, the company can invite a few trusted clients to join a discussion and brainstorm solutions with the internal team.

    Focus Groups - Key takeaways

    • A Focus group is a qualitative research method where a moderator interviews a group of participants on a topic.

    • Focus group interviewing can provide insightful data at relatively cheap costs while allowing the researcher to observe the participant's body language and engage with them deeply.

    • There are five main types of focus groups: mini-focus groups, two-way focus groups, dual-moderator focus groups, dueling moderator focus groups, and respondent-moderator focus groups.

    • An online focus group is a subcategory of focus groups where the discussion takes place online.

    • Focus groups can come with several disadvantages, including difficulty in engaging a large group of people, time-consuming analysis, and shy participants.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Focus Groups

    What is a focus group example?

    An example of a focus group is a company that contacts a group of customers and asks them for feedback about a recent product launch. 

    What are the pros and cons of a focus group?

    The pros of a focus group include cost effectiveness, body language observation, and deeper engagement with the customers. The cons of a focus group include difficulty in engaging a large group, time-consuming analysis or shy/uncomfortable participants. 

    What are the benefits of focus groups?

    Focus groups are relatively cheap to execute. The only costs are rental costs and interviewer salaries. However, most companies use their own office and employees to conduct focus groups. Another benefit of a focus group is that it allows the moderator to observe the interviewee and adjust the conversation to be more in tune with them. It is also more engaging than faceless forms of research such as surveys and questionnaires. 

    What are the advantages of focus groups over interviews?

    Focus groups can take place with more participants than one-on-one interviews. This allows the researchers to collect diverse answers from multiple people at once. Most interviews are limited to one interviewer and one (or more) participant. Focus groups are more flexible. There can be more than one moderator who each observes and interacts with the participants, which helps reduce subjectivity.

    Why are focus groups better than surveys?

    Surveys are often carried out without the moderator meeting the respondent face-to-face. This means less opportunity to engage the participants. The questions are also limited to closed-ended questions, multiple choice or rating scales. In focus groups, moderators can ask open-ended questions to drive more in-depth responses from the participants. Compared to surveys, focus groups guarantee a higher response rate and provide more comprehensive results. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Focus group is a _________ method where the researcher selects a group of customers to interview and collect opinions on a topic.

    Focus group is a ____________.

    Dual-moderator focus groups include two moderators interacting with the participants simultaneously. 


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