Five Elements of a Successful Focus Group

Scenario #1:  Your client wants to get Spanish-speaking moms interested in a new product. You’re trying to decide how best to reach them – a brochure, a website or perhaps TV/radio ads.

Scenario #2:  You’re developing a video on the dangers of smoking that you would like to test with teens to see what images and messages resonate with them.

Reality check #1:  The budget is limited.

Reality check #2:  This project needs to be completed yesterday!

In either scenario, focus groups would achieve the goal without breaking the bank. They provide a relatively inexpensive and timely way to brainstorm with target audiences about how to reach them, or to test messages and advertising concepts.

The key to getting the most from your limited focus group dollars is to plan ahead and to use the right tools… and the right people. Here are a few key ingredients you need to make the most of this valuable research tool:

1. Qualitative Research Consultant/Moderator

1503555-1If you know you will use focus groups at some point in your project, make sure that a trained qualitative researcher/moderator is working with you from the start. She or he can help you budget correctly, decide upon how you want to segment the groups, determine whether in-person, phone or online groups are most appropriate for your study, and figure out the best way to  present your concepts  in a focus group setting.

To find a qualified moderator, contact the Qualitative Research Consultants Association  or get recommendations from colleagues. Don’t forget to ask prospective moderators if they have received professional training.

2. Effective Recruitment Strategies

Good recruitment strategies are an essential part of having successful focus groups. Use qualified market research firms and cooperate with them on incentive or screening recommendations, as they have extensive experience trying to reach the very people needed for your project.

You may decide that you want to hold groups in three or four different geographic areas in order to see if people in Los Angeles react the same way to an advertising concept as those in rural Alabama. How do you do that? You hold focus groups in several different locations and compare the responses. Use the Green Book website or Quirk’s Marketing Resource Media site to find professional focus group facilities nationwide. They’ve been in business for years and know what firms are out there.

3. Appropriate Incentives

It’s unlikely that someone will participate in a focus group for free. That’s why determining the appropriate incentive for your groups is important. Offering less than the going amount could end up costing you money in the end, as market research firms base their own recruiting costs in part upon the intended incentive. Lower incentives can mean higher recruiting costs, or the need to recruit more people for the group in order for an acceptable “show rate.” Paying a reasonable incentive is a sure-fire way to ensure that respondents will show up and participate.

4. Adequate and Realistic Timelines

The best gift you can give to yourself and your project is time. Proper planning will lead to a better research approach, more exact research goals, better testing materials and adequate time to identify the right respondents.

You also need adequate time between completing the groups and submitting the final report to ensure that the moderator/qualitative researcher has enough time to time to read and process transcripts, enter data into qualitative software programs, and fully analyze the data.

Often, however, time is limited. When developing a focus group timeline, be sure to include a realistic amount of time for:

  • Obtaining Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval (if the project is funded by Federal funds)
  • Developing recruitment screeners and moderator guides
  • Developing materials to be shown/tested in the focus groups
  • Obtaining bids from focus group facilities
  • Recruiting participants
  • Getting transcripts made from focus group recordings
  • Analyzing data
  • Preparing the report

5. Compliance with OMB Process for Federally-Funded Research

Any focus group project that is funded by Federal money needs to be approved by OMB.  Most Federal agencies have an office that works with OMB to ensure that all projects comply with OMB requirements. Incorporating the OMB compliance process into your research plan will ensure that the project meets OMB requirements and the client’s needs at the same time.

Lynn Halverson is the Senior Qualitative Researcher at TMNcorp. She has more than 30 years of experience as a researcher, including 25 years as a trained focus group moderator. This post originally appeared on the TMNcorp blog.

8 thoughts on “Five Elements of a Successful Focus Group

  1. Indeed. Focus groups are a great source of information,but they need to be planned well to be effective. We’re lucky to have Lynn help us do that.

  2. Pingback: The Qualitative Report, Vol. 18(23), June 10, 2013 | Virtual School Meanderings

  3. Great post about focus groups! I have been apart of a few myself, and I must say one of them felt like it was thrown together last minute! Which is why I appreciate the fact that you identified the need to establish adequate and flexible time lines. The training/knowledge of the research consultant is also very important. I know you suggested that people check out the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, but off the top of my head I can also think of a quality assurance company that some colleagues of mine used called SQM. They did a great job planning, organizing, and conducting focus groups so if you or anyone else wants to see what they do you can check them out here.

    At the end of the day, if your research consultant(s) are not properly trained in the administering of focus groups, then the effort is bound to fail!



  4. Pingback: Market Research Techniques: How To Run An Effective Focus Group | Ea155's Blog

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