What is Focus Groups?

A focus group is small, but the demographically diverse group of people whose reactions are studied especially in market research or political analysis in guided or open discussions about a new product or something else to determine the reactions that can be expected from a larger population. It is a form of qualitative research consisting of interviews in which a group of people is asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. During this process, the researcher either takes notes or records the vital points he or she is getting from the group. Researchers should select members of the focus group carefully for effective and authoritative responses.

Define of Focus Groups

“A group of people assembled to participate in a discussion about a product before it is launched, or to provide feedback on a political campaign, television series, etc.”

Definitions of Focus Groups

Market research: Small number of people (usually between 4 and 15, but typically 8) brought together with a moderator to focus on a specific product or topic. Focus groups aim at a discussion instead of on individual responses to formal questions and produce qualitative data (preferences and beliefs) that may or may not be representative of the general population.

Problem-solving: Idea generation or forecasting technique where several experts or informed individuals share their point of view on a specific topic or problem.

A focus group is a gathering of 5 to 10 people who are selected because of their relationship to the issue being discussed. Although focus groups are used for a variety of purposes, they can be used to help generate new business ideas.

Focus groups typically involve a group of people who are familiar with a topic, are brought together to respond to questions, and shed light on an issue through the give-and-take nature of a group discussion. Focus groups usually work best as a follow-up to brainstorming, when the general idea for a business has been formulated, such as casual electronic games for adults, but further refinement of the idea is needed. Usually, focus groups are conducted by trained moderators. The moderator’s primary goals are to keep the group “focused” and to generate lively discussion. Much of the effectiveness of a focus group session depends on the moderator’s ability to ask questions and keep the discussion on track. For example, a retail establishment in which coffee is sold, such as Starbucks, might conduct a focus group consisting of 7 to 10 frequent customers and ask the group, “What is it that you don’t like about our coffee shop?” A customer may say, “You sell 1-pound bags of your specialty ground coffees for people to brew at home. That’s okay, but I often run out of the coffee in just a few days. Sometimes it’s a week before I get back to the shop to buy another bag. If you sold 3-pound or 5-pound bags, I’d actually use more coffee because I wouldn’t run out so often. I guess I could buy two or three 1-pound bags at the same time, but that gets a little pricey. I’d buy a 3- or 5-pound bag, however, if you’d discount your price a little for larger quantities.” The moderator may then ask the group, “How many people here would buy 3-pound or 5-pound bags of our coffee if they were available?” If five hands shoot up, the coffee shop may have just uncovered an idea for a new product line.

Some companies utilize hybrid focus group methodologies to achieve specific insights and goals. An example is “college drop-ins.” This approach involves paying college students to host a party at their campus and providing them a budget to buy food and snacks. During the party, the hosts interview and videotape other students about specific market issues. Everything is up-front—the partygoers are told that the information is being collected for a market research firm (on behalf of a client).

History of Focus Groups

Focus groups have a long history and were used during the Second World War (1939-1945) to examine the effectiveness of propaganda. Associate director sociologist Robert K. Merton set up focus groups at the Bureau of Applied Social Research in the USA prior to 1976. Psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Dichter coined the term “focus group” itself before his death in 1991.


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