Focus On The Group

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 25, 2009

How do you make a contest interesting if you already know the final score before the game begins? Once the results have been quantified, is there any benefit to further inquiry?

At this year’s national political conventions the real results were determined long before air time. At the recent Democratic convention, one network introduced the use of “focus group interviews” to gain additional insights.

The “focus group interview” is a well established and reliable market research exercise. As used at the recent convention, the focus group interviews were effective in providing accurate insights as to delegate’s behavior in what was already a fairly unsuspenseful event. But after all, isn’t that what good marketing research is all about – taking the suspense out of the final outcome.

All businesses do market research. Some do it consciously, others unconsciously. Some do it formally, others informally. Some do it well, others not so well.

Good market research should provide answers to six basic questions. Who buys? Why do they buy? What do they buy? How do they buy? Where do they buy? When do they buy? The success of any business will be enhanced with the right answers to these questions.

Market research information can be categorized in two general areas, “quantitative” and “qualitative”. “Quantitative” information can be summarized in statistics like percents, averages and other numbers. For example, how many delegates are pledged to each candidate or the number of single family homes in an area.

“Qualitative” information, on the other hand, is information of a greater depth. It seeks open ended responses from people who are willing to share their thoughts on specific topics. For example, how strong is your support for the nominee? Or, what was your primary objective when you made that purchase? The advantage of qualitative research is in learning what the respondent is really thinking while the decision is being made.

One of the most frequently used forms of qualitative market research is the “focus group interview”. In its simplest form, a focus group interview involves the gathering of a small group of about ten people that represents a cross section of your intended customer population. Assembled in an informal setting that will be conducive to group interaction, review with the group the purposes for which you have brought them together.

Ask questions in a direct and open manner that will solicit unbiased responses about your proposed project. It is important for the leader to ask the type of open ended questions that will stimulate discussion.
At the convention, focus group members were recruited from different geographic areas and political constituencies. The members of a focus group for your business would be your prospective customers. Don’t be bashful in asking people to participate, most individuals are flattered to have their opinions asked and will take the group seriously.

If you are interested in reactions to a potential new product, inquire as to how existing products are not meeting the groups needs. Examine your groups reaction to the advantages and disadvantages of your new product. Explore the groups perception of value and how much might they be willing to pay for the new product. Delve into all those areas that could possibly impact the success of your venture.

A weakness of the focus group concept, as with all qualitative market research, is that so much can depend on the researchers or group leaders perceptions. To neutralize these biases, take notes as the discussion progresses or better yet, tape the session for subsequent review.

When a good group is established, keep it together for periodic reviews as the project progresses. Supplement the focus group discussion with random interviewing. Much the same as the “roving reporter” on the convention floor corners an unsuspecting delegate for their opinion, interview individuals shopping in an area where you contemplate locating. If you are developing a new service, talk to those who you anticipate needing that service and get their first hand reactions to your idea.

You can use focus groups and other qualitative market research techniques to gain valuable insights into the needs and behavior of your intended consumers. By not relying strictly on your instincts and quantitative analysis, you will increase your chances for a successful marketing effort.

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