Focus group research methods
— June 23rd, 2021
Focus Groups are all around us in our modern world. Businesses use them to carry out constant data analysis to determine how people feel about their products or services. And ‘feel’ is the operative word here; we’re talking about a research method that is all about people’s subjective opinions and experiences.
Yet the origins of the focus group can arguably be traced right back to famed Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. An acolyte of Freud’s teachings, Ernest Dichter, schooled in the belief that people are often motivated by unconscious, irrational and often visceral desires, was one of the early pioneers of a much more qualitative approach. Instead of counting how many times a group carries out a task, his aim was to delve below the mere act and, through talking with participants, tease out precisely what it was that motivated people to buy one brand over another, or just about anything else involving making choices.
Top Tips & Traps – Employee Focus Groups
Being counting is not enough
At one time it was all about quantity over quality. The common research method involved logging how many of one thing took place over another. Yet, this failed to give a qualitative sense of what was motivating those choices in the mind of the consumer.
This is where the Focus Group began to find favor within the marketing departments of myriad companies and latterly political parties.
One of the earliest examples was the Betty Crocker cake mix conundrum. 1950s US housewives liked the idea of a ready-to-bake cake mix, but it wasn’t selling. Enter Ernest Dichter and one of the earliest examples of consumer Focus Groups. Dichter -- using what he called ‘motivational research’ -- gleaned, from speaking to working housewives, that they felt a sense of emotional conflict in serving ready-made recipes.
The solution: change the recipe so that the customer had to add an egg to the mix, thus gaining a sense of participation in the act of baking.
Focus group data wasn’t so much about counting how many people chose one product over another, it was much more about gaining subjective, sometimes unconscious, consumer attitudes to what motivates or inhibits certain actions. Ernest Dichter thus pioneered much of the practices on how to conduct a focus group that organizations use today.
In essence, the organizers of a focus group seek to pinpoint attitudes by interviewing small numbers of people. Participants are typically targeted because they have previously made choices relating to a product or service or those in its immediate competitive landscape.
A focus group research example might be as simple as asking consumers why they chose a particular brand of well-known toothpaste over another, too much more subtle and nuanced discussions of people’s attitudes to a particular political party and its policies.
Yet, not all types of focus group discussions are equal. Where once a focus group would comprise a small cohort, perhaps of eight people, being interviewed around a table over a period of time, today modern methodology allows for online or teleconferenced approaches.
Clearly focus group interview advantages and disadvantages come into play here. With the massive growth in online and telemarketing companies seeking to survey key groups as a service to business, attitudes towards participation have rapidly changed.
This effectively brings the practice full circle, with a recognition that, for Focus Groups to continue to achieve meaningful contributions to market insights for business, a digital/online solution is but one part of a much broader range of tools (interview techniques and environment, visual aids and facilitator-led discussions being a few others) that companies should utilize… including the ‘traditional’ round table Q&A championed in the 1950s.
What remains clear is this: as long as there is competition for customer attention, there will always be a need to delve a little deeper than quantitative data can deliver. This is where the Focus Group reigns supreme.
In its methods and application, the Focus Group has created an invaluable resource for reaching below the surface, to divine just what motivates our unspoken, often unconscious, needs wants, and desires.
What are the different types of focus groups?
Single Focus Group
The most common type of focus group is a single focus group. Within these groups there exists a moderator and an average group of 12 participants. It is the role of the moderator to ask a set of questions to the others in the group, relating to a particular topic of research. During single focus group meetings, the organization conducting the research will observe the meeting from a distance. For example, through a camera or two-way mirror.
Mini Focus Group
Similar to single focus groups, mini focus groups consist of a moderator and group of participants. However, mini focus groups generally consist of only four or five members. The reason for these smaller groups is to obtain more precise insight into the thoughts, viewpoints, and opinions of those participating.
Two-Way Focus Group
Two-way focus groups consist of two separate groups of participants, with one partaking in the discussion and the other one observing. The second group does not take part in the conversation directly, but they are provided with the opportunity to comment and share their thoughts on what has been said by the first group.
This type of focus group is particularly useful for complex or multi-dimensional topics where more in-depth coverage and opinion are required.
Dual-Moderator Focus Group
Organizers of dual-moderator focus groups hold the opinion that two moderators are better than one. The role of the additional moderator is to work alongside the first to ensure the discussion is staying on track or that no particular topic is receiving too much attention. This way the meeting remains organized throughout and everything that needs to be covered gets covered.
Dueling Moderators Focus Group
With this style of focus group, the two moderators act as opponents, both taking different viewpoints on a matter in order to further open the conversation. By engaging with each other in such a manner, the moderators can ensure that every angle of the issue gets attention.
Client Participant Focus Group
On rare occasions, clients will step out from behind the scenes, and participate in a focus group in person. This happens when the client wants to be fully reassured that the topic up for discussion is explored in as much detail as required.
It also allows the client to steer the conversation in whatever direction they see fit. Clients will sometimes let their presence be known to participants and other times join the group anonymously.
Online Focus Group
With the advantages of technology, online focus groups are an option now more than ever and can be just as effective as in-person meetings. Online focus groups usually take place over video calls with members participating from separate locations remotely.
Communicating virtually in this manner still allows participants to see and hear each other, and to observe each other’s mannerisms and body language.
Top Tips & Traps – Employee Focus Groups
What are the 5 methods of collecting data?
1. Literary sources
Collecting data through literary sources means getting the information required from texts that are already written and available. This is known as secondary data collection and the sources utilized include digital articles, government reports, online published papers, textbooks, and many more. This is an easily accessible method of collecting data that is generally inexpensive.
Another inexpensive and straightforward method of collecting data is through the use of surveys. A survey used for this purpose is aimed at a specific group of people to determine how they feel or are affected by a certain matter.
These surveys can come in the form of online questionnaires or printed questionnaires, with both following a similar format that is easy to complete and easy to analyze.
Interviews are a more thorough form of data collection that aims to delve deeper into the thoughts and opinions of respondents.
Carried out in a face-to-face setting, online video, or over the phone, interviews can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured, depending on the level of formality required.
This form of data collection consists of observing the behaviors and actions of a group of participants or else monitoring a specific environment. This can be a natural form of observation, with participants being viewed in their regular surroundings, or it can be a controlled procedure.
There is also a third method of observation, which includes the person carrying out the observation becoming part of the group being analyzed.
5. Documents and records
Documents and records, in terms of data collection, are used to map out changes that have occurred over a point in time. In this way, organizations can determine the business practices that have benefited them and those that have not.
Examples of records and documents used in data collection include customer surveys, phone recordings, minutes kept at meetings, staff reports, company reviews, and many more.
Focus groups are an extremely important asset to organizations as they provide an opportunity to obtain in-depth insight into the attitudes, beliefs, and thought patterns of a specific group of people on a certain topic, product, or service. This is why it is unsurprising that focus groups are the most well-known form of market research.
There are a number of different ways that a focus group can be carried out and it is the role of the organization to determine which is the most appropriate method for their specific needs. To get the most out of a focus group and make it a success, businesses should be extremely well prepared. This includes having a set plan for the topics that will be discussed and carefully selecting those individuals who will be participating in the group.