What is a focus group?
The mostly widely used qualitative tool is the focus group. A focus group is the meeting of a small group of individuals who are guided through a discussion by a trained moderator (or consultant). The goal of the focus group is to get beyond superficial answers and uncover insights on consumer attitudes and behavior.

Who participates in the focus group?
Participants are carefully screened and recruited to ensure that they are part of the relevant target market. There are usually six to ten members in the group, and the session usually lasts for one to two hours. A moderator guides the group through a discussion that probes attitudes about a client’s products or services. The discussion is loosely structured, and the moderator encourages the free flow of ideas.

How are focus groups conducted?
Focus groups are often held in a room with a large conference table and chairs. However, focus groups can be conducted in more relaxed settings relevant to the topic at hand, such as a living/family room, or a bar/entertaining room and so on. These rooms are staged within the focus group facility to provide an atmosphere that puts the respondent at ease and encourages open and honest communication. Representatives from client companies observe the discussion behind a one-way mirror. Usually, a video camera records the meeting so that it can be seen by others who were not able to travel to the facility.

Researchers examine more than the spoken words. They also try to interpret facial expressions, body language, and group dynamics. Moderators may use straight questioning or various projective techniques, including fixed or free association, story-telling and role-playing. Focus groups are often used to garner reaction to specific stimuli such as concepts, prototypes and advertising.

What makes focus groups useful?
Focus groups are frequently used because they foster valuable group dynamics that can be observed live by clients and because they are cost-effective. However, it is important to determine if and when the focus group is the appropriate type of qualitative research to use. For instance, focus groups are often used during the exploratory phase of product development. This is before anything has been put into action, and a company wants initial opinions and reactions to a product prior to market launch.

What challenges face focus groups?
Professional Respondents—also known as “cheater/repeaters” is a person who is dishonest during the respondent recruiting process and whose intensions are not for marketing research, but to benefit from the monetary gifts given to respondents. Focus groups are compromised when unqualified respondents participate in focus groups and yield poor or incorrect results. Reputable focus group facilities have safeguards in place to minimize or eliminate most professional respondents from ever being included in a focus group.