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Focus group is an important form of qualitative marketing research that is used to gather main data regarding opinions, feelings, attitudes and impressions of a specific target population on a certain subject.
Usually, a focus group consists in a small, representative group of people invited to share their perceptions, thoughts, beliefs and ideas towards a product, service, notion, commercial, idea, or encasement.
Participants are free to talk, support their opinions and reason their choices.
Basically, focus groups are interviews with more people at the same time. There is an objective moderator also called facilitator who encourages the participants to give feedback or comment.
Focus groups can be organized as a debate where participants choose sides and duel the subject in discussion. There can also be formed mini focus groups with less than 10 persons, usually 5-6.
The facilitator can be chosen from the participants, or there can be two of them, taking care that the discussion does not run out of course. Though traditional focus groups are held in person, there can also be telephone or online focus groups.
Benefits of focus groups
There are many advantages of this method , including :
They are quick, easy, cheaper than other marketing research methods. Focus groups are to be between 30 minutes and 1 hour and there is plenty of time to get valuable information. They are not costly, there are more labor or time resources invested in organizing the group and analyzing the data than financial means involved.
They allow you direct contact with the target market. You receive their ideas, attitudes, feelings, needs, and impressions first-hand. You get a closer view of their values, principles and reasons for their choices. You gain insight into the obstacles customers meet when considering buying your product/service. You gain a deeper understanding of how the participants perceive you.
Participants' opinions represent essential information that could provide you ideas for change. Understanding what people don't like about your product or service, or the drawbacks from buying them, you know what should be improved and how. Customers are always valuable resources when it comes to advertising. They have effective ideas of how to market your product or service because they know what they want to hear or see in order to be persuaded.
The group effect produces data and insights that are not accessible in a 1-on-1 interview. Listening to other participants' verbalized experiences provokes memories, ideas, and experiences hard to recollect without interaction found in a group. They build on one another's responses and come up with ideas they might not have thought of .Participants can act as checks and balances on one another - validating others or discovering existent errors or extreme perspectives.
Participants express in their own words, and build a common language to describe similar experiences. That might help you speak in the language of your target market the next advertising campaign.
Focus groups provide information to the company conducting it but as well to the participants, that will walk away from the interaction with more information about the company and products and are likely to become loyal customers, referrals or partners. This establishes relationships, builds goodwill and increase brand's awareness.
Limitations in of focus groups
There are a couple of drawbacks in conducting a focus group:
Because of the relatively small number of respondents, focus groups are not statistically valid. The subjective approach, implies that the focus group is not well-grounded for understanding of larger samples' attitudes . They may bring out a great amount of information about what a particular "public" wants, but don't unveil specific data like the number of people of a particular group who share those preferences or features.
Focus groups require a proficient and experienced moderator. The facilitator has less control over a group than a one-on-one interview. If the moderator doesn't monitor and guide the discussion , a lot of time can be lost on issues irrelevant to the topic.
The data resulted from a focus group is tough to analyze. The answers are not as standardized as in a poll, and regard not just the spoken language, but the body language too. All data requires skill and experience to analyze.
The results depend on the observer .The answers obtained are affected by the researcher, him being the one formulating the question, guiding the discussion, selecting the respondents, all these raising questions of validity. Facilitator's attitude and the environment also influence the answers obtained from respondents. They can be tempted to please the facilitator rather than offer their own evaluations and ideas, and make the focus group totally useless.
The results can also be influence by a few dominant group members that take over the session and affect responses of all other participants so the answers of each participant are not independent anymore . Another issue is that the responses are not anonymous, and some participants may feel embarrassed to express their opinions because of the presence of other people.
Following, there are some tips for a successful focus group. Conducting a focus group requires preparation before the actual event, a lot of monitoring and guiding during the meeting and skills and experience in analyzing the results and make the most out of them for the success of the company.
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