Focus group research: Steps to conduct a focus group

What is a focus group?

A focus group is best defined as a small group of carefully selected participants who contribute to open discussions for research. The hosting organization carefully selects participants for the study to represent the larger population they’re attempting to target.

The group might look at new products, feature updates, or other topics of interest to generalize the entire population’s reaction. Focus group research includes a moderator. Their job is to ensure legitimate results and reduce bias in the discussions.

In 1991, marketing and psychological expert Ernest Dichter coined the name “Focus Group.” The term described meetings held with a limited group of participants with the objective of discussion.

  • You use a focus group in qualitative research. A group of 6-10 people, usually 8, meet to explore and discuss a topic, such as a new product. The group shares their feedback, opinions, knowledge, and insights about the topic at hand.
  • Participants openly share opinions and are free to convince other participants of their ideas.
  • The mediator takes notes on the discussion and opinions of group members.
  • The right group members affect the results of your research, so it’s vital to be picky when selecting members.

Focus groups possess a distinct advantage over other market research methods. They capitalize on the moderator’s communication with participants and the flexibility to move the discussion. It allows you to extract meaningful insights and opinions.

The purpose of the group is not to arrive at a consensus or agreement on the topic. Instead, it seeks to identify and understand customer perceptions of a brand, product, or service.

Build my community

Best practices for focus group research:

Follow these five steps to create a market research focus group.

  1. Have a clear plan for focus group members. The goal of the group must be clear before approaching participants to join. For example, does the researcher intend to discuss new products or the effect of current marketing campaigns? Use a written explanation to clarify the objective to members.
  2. With a plan in place, begin writing your focus group survey questions. Questions should align with the research objective and complement one another. Start the discussion with the most crucial issues and end with the least important. Asking open-ended questions increases the effectiveness of your research.
  3. Schedule the time, place, and duration of the discussion. Be sure to let members know in advance so that they can plan accordingly.
  4. You can host a focus group in person or through an online community. Offline groups meet at a physical location to conduct the discussion in person. An in-person event requires a venue that includes bathrooms and refreshments, so participants are comfortable. On the other hand, online focus groups meet virtually through an online discussion platform. Invitations and reminders for online discussions need to be sent out several times before the event. This helps participants to remember your online event.
  5. Create informational brochures or forum posts with a welcome note, the meeting agenda, and overall rules of the discussion.

Main pillars of a focus group:

Participants: A crucial step in conducting a focus group is the process of participant selection. The main criteria for selecting the participants must be their knowledge about the subject. If you need help selecting members, look for a research-based organization that matches you with qualified participants.

The role of a moderator: The moderator conducts the group with confidence and leads members through the questions. They must be impartial throughout the process. As the researcher, you can also be the moderator, so long as you remain objective. You can also hire a suitable professional moderator to run your focus group survey.

Types of focus groups

Your choice of focus group depends on the needs of your research. Types include: 

  • Dual-moderator focus group: There are two moderators for this event. One ensures smooth execution, and the other guarantees the discussion of each question.
  • Two-way focus group: A two-way group involves two separate groups having discussions on the topic at different times. As one group conducts their study, the other group observes the discussion. In the end, the group that observed the first session performs their conversation. The second group can use insights gained from watching the first discussion to dive deeper into the topic and offer more perspective.
  • Mini focus group: This type of group restricts participants to 4-5 members instead of the usual 6-10.
  • Client-involvement focus group: Use this group when clients ask you to conduct a focus group and invite those who ask.
  • Participant-moderated focus group: One or more participants provisionally take up the role of moderator.
  • Online focus group: These groups employ online mediums to gather opinions and feedback. There are three categories of people in an online focus panel: observer, moderator, and respondent.

Steps to conduct focus group research

  1. Recruit the right participants

A researcher must be careful while recruiting participants. Members need adequate knowledge of the topic so that they can add to the conversation.

  1. Choose a moderator

Your moderator should understand the topic of discussion and possess the following qualities:

  • Ensures participation from all members of the group.
  • Regulates dominant group members so others may speak.
  • Motivates inattentive members through supportive words and positive body language.
  • Makes the executive decision to end or continue a discussion should it become too heated.

Verify your moderator doesn’t know any of the participants. Existing relationships between a member and moderator cause bias and can skew your data.

  1. Record the meeting for future purposes

While conducting a focus group, it is essential to record the sessions or meetings. A researcher can record the discussion through audio or video. You must let participants know you’re planning to record the event and get their consent.

  1. Write clear discussion guidelines

Before the session starts, it is crucial to write down clear session guidelines. Include key questions, expectations of focus group members, whether you’re recording the discussion, and methods of sharing results. Give out the instructions in advance and request participants to comply with them.

  1. Conduct the session and generate a report

Once participants understand their role, the moderator leads the focus group survey. You can ask members to fill out a feedback form to collect quantitative data from the event. Use your data and generate reports on the overall findings of your study.

  1. Use the data to make a plan of action

Share your report with stakeholders and decisionmakers in your organization. A good report helps you design actionable plans to improve products or services according to the focus group feedback. Update focus group members on the changes you make and the results of those changes.

Focus group examples

Focus groups are common in three situations:

  • Initial stages of a research study
  • While creating a plan of action during research
  • After the completion of the study to establish results

For example, a laptop company needs customer feedback about an upcoming product. Focus group research provides direct information about the market from actual consumers.

The company chooses eight individuals who represent their target market for a constructive discussion. The moderator asks questions regarding customer preference on laptop size and features. Group members discuss why they do or do not like certain aspects of a laptop. The company uses the opinions of the participants to create a product that fits customer needs and wants.

Focus group questions

Questions to recruit participants

1. Do you or any of your family members work in any of the following sectors?

Focus group question example

2. Select your age range:

question age

3. Kindly select your employment type:

question employment

4. Please specify your level of education:

education question

5. Please state your family status:

question family status

Our focus group recruitment questionnaire template gives you a range of survey questions for maximum responses. These responses also help you make the best choice in recruiting the appropriate group members.

Learn more: FREE Focus Group Recruitment Questionnaire Survey Template 

Focus group question examples

When using a focus group in marketing research, you must ask the right questions for accurate results. Good focus group questions have the following characteristics:

  • A friendly and conversational tone
  • Language or phrases that resonate with participants
  • Straightforward and accurate
  • Each item includes one aspect and doesn’t merge multiple topics
  • Clarify complex questions for more precise answers

Avoid asking questions to specific individuals to ensure the inclusion of all participants. Restrict discussion time per question to 5-20 minutes to keep the conversation efficient.

There are four categories of focus group questions:

1. Primary question: This first open-ended question initiates the entire discussion.

Example:

  • We are here to discuss ____. What are your thoughts about it?

2. Probe questions: These questions dig deeper into the discussion of the primary question.

For example,

  • What do you know about ____?
  • How familiar are you with this organizational program?
  • What do you love about our organization?

3. Questions to follow-up: After establishing the overall knowledge and feelings of the group, the moderator identifies specific insights.

For example:

  • What do you think are the pros and cons of this product?
  • According to you, where can we improve to provide better customer service?
  • Which factors prompted you to purchase our products/services?
  • What is the likelihood of recommending our products to your friends and colleagues?

4. Questions for the conclusion: Review previous questions to avoid overlooking the main points. It is the time when a moderator can revisit specific topics to gather more data.

For example,

  • Is there anything other than the already discussed questions you would like to talk about?
  • Do you want to add to what is already spoken about?

Focus group advantages:

  • A great complement to other mediums like online surveys and online polls. Focus groups give you access to why a customer feels a certain way about a product, and surveys help you collect supporting feedback in large batches.
  • Immediate access to customer opinions, making data collection, and analysis quick and convenient.
  • Highly flexible to adapt to the needs and opinions of the group members.
  • Easy to conduct regular discussions to eliminate inaccurate results due to current market outlooks.
  • Focus groups are perfect sources to understand the true feelings and perceptions of your selected target audience,

Build my community

Online focus group software – QuestionPro Communities

Online focus groups remove the need for a physical location. Like in-person groups, online groups involve 6-10 participants who share their opinions. Many researchers prefer online focus groups for convenience and cost-effectiveness.

QuestionPro Communities is an online focus group software. It’s a highly-effective market research tool that helps researchers find online focus groups for their research purposes.

QuestionPro Communities software and tools include:

Discussions

Organizations invite participants to a moderated online discussion forum. Participants may answer questions at any time suitable to them.

Focus group discussions

Idea Board

Idea Board allows respondents to share their ideas. Other group members can analyze, write feedback, and even vote on submissions.

Focus group idea board

Topics

Users can submit topics, cast their votes in existing posts, and leave comments or feedback instantly.

Focus group community

QuestionPro Communities is the only online focus group software available on desktop and mobile. Go mobile and take Discussions, Idea Board, and Topics anywhere your respondents go.

Start conducting online focus group surveys with participants from across the globe with QuestionPro Communities today.