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Focus Groups Advantages & Disadvantages For Businesses

Advantages & Disadvantages of Focus Groups

Focus groups is a popular market research technique that involves bringing together a small group of people to discuss in detail a product, service or idea. Businesses use focus groups to highlight valuable insights with their offering by getting first-hand feedback from the target audience.

Advantages of focus groups:

  • Get detailed feedback and qualitative insight
  • Ability of observe non-verbal cues in body language and expression
  • New ideas sparked through discussion
  • Real time reactions and feedback
  • Cost effective compared to large scale research
  • Faster feedback than individual interviews

Disadvantages of focus groups:

  • Difficult to generally findings to broader population
  • Risk of bias from vocal participants
  • Potential for ‘groupthink’ to screw true individual opinions
  • Risk of misleading or untruthful feedback
  • Logistical issues in scheduling and recruiting participants.

Like many other research methods, there are some limitations with focus groups. In this article, we will explore the key advantages and disadvantages when using it as a primary research method.

What are Focus Groups?

So, what exactly are focus groups? This is when a group of between 6-12 demographically similar participants discuss a specific topic with the intention of providing some insights on the subject. For example, a company who makes dog food would want to recruit participants who have dogs.

A qualified moderator would lead the discussion and cover topics that are seen as relevant to the focus group, often to extract insights on customer opinion about a certain topic. Group discussions usually last for 90 minutes and are typically conducted in person although video calling platforms are becoming more popular.

By having an open face to face discussion, focus groups provide real-life insights that other methods, like surveys or polls, do not provide.

Advantages of Focus Groups for Businesses

Gain In-Depth Feedback and Qualitative Insights

The single biggest advantage of focus groups is its ability to gather more detailed feedback than what surveys or polls can provide. By having a list of topics to discuss, focus groups allow in-depth feedback to be provided that can be used to develop a product or brand.

For example, by asking questions that invite discussion, it may highlight issues or concerns about topics you wouldn’t have thought to ask about in a survey.

Observe Body Language and Other Non-Verbal Cues

Focus groups allow you to observe non-verbal cues from the participants. In a group situation you can observe the group dynamics of multiple participants by watching body language, facial expressions and other subtle tells, unlike surveys.

Noticing non-verbal cues like facial expressions can indicate discomfort or disagreement with the topic that is being discussed. Observing these cues can provide additional insights to the verbal feedback for a better understanding of consumer opinion.

Spark New Ideas Through Group Brainstorming

Speaking sparks discussion. Focus groups allow people to bounce off one another’s ideas and discuss each other’s feedback in more detail. By hearing the opinions of others, it can encourage a different thought process and highlight previously unseen insights.

Focus group feedback can be used to refine existing products, inspire new ideas or make changes to the current branding.

Obtain Real-Time Reactions and Feedback

Another benefit of focus groups, either in person or virtual, is the ability to observe real-time reactions to products or advertisements without having to wait for feedback.

For example, observing the initial reaction of participants when you introduce a product or advertisement can be extremely valuable for refining your offering.

Cost-Effective Compared to Large-Scale Research

If you’re a small business, conducting focus groups can be a cost-effective method of gathering information. As groups are small, usually no more than 12, costs to operate are low.

Because you can choose the demographics of your focus group and guide the discussion on specific topics, the feedback received can be just as meaningful as a larger scale survey.

Facilitates Fast Research Compared to Interviews

Focus groups facilitate a faster method of feedback than interviews due to being able to gather insights from multiple participants at the same time and consolidate quickly to provide valuable insights.

As you can gather feedback from multiple participants at the same time, by having a couple of focus groups, it might provide more insights quicker than having to conduct single person interviews.

Disadvantages & Limitations of Focus Groups

There are however some limitations to consider with focus groups.

Difficult to Generalise Findings to Broader Population

The biggest disadvantage of focus groups is that the feedback received may not cover a wide enough audience to be considered a general opinion of the target market so it’s an unreliable source to apply to a wider population.

For example, you may discover that a group of dog owners loves your new dog food flavour however that does not mean all dog owners nationwide will have the same opinion.

Risk of Bias from More Vocal Participants

If the focus groups contain naturally out-spoken participants, this could lead to the results favouring a certain opinion. Some views may not be heard if the participant is less confident in speaking up leading to inconsistent results.

Experienced moderators can help mitigate the risk of this happening by guiding the discussion effectively and ensuring participants have an equal speaking time.

Groupthink Can Distort Findings

Another drawback to focus groups is that individuals can end up agreeing with the consensus of the group, so as not to seem disagreeable which can alter the findings.

An experienced moderator who can identify where these situations arise and implement strategies to encourage free speech and independent thought can help elicit these views.

Difficulty Probing Contradictory or Complex Opinions

Focus groups can also make it difficult to understand the participants’ views and beliefs as they may not be comfortable expressing their true thoughts in front of other people, usually strangers.

When a participant mentions a particular topic or comes up with an idea that you want to explore further, focus groups can make it difficult to go into any detail without disrupting the discussion. Experienced moderators can find the balance between probing questions and keeping the discussion flowing.

Logistical Challenges of Scheduling and Recruiting

Focus groups can be difficult to organise logistically. Identifying and hiring suitable participants that fit your target market demographic can be time consuming, while finding a suitable time that suits all involved can make scheduling a focus group challenging.

Other logistical challenges can also be difficult to overcome such as finding a suitable venue. Similarly, if the focus groups are to be held remotely, an understanding of technology on a large scale will take time and effort to implement correctly.

Risk of Receiving Misleading Feedback

With any type of feedback, there is always a risk that participants may not be truthful. This can be because participants are uncomfortable with sharing or embellish the truth to seem more interesting.

Different personalities react differently to focus groups. Some enjoy the social interaction and others do not, so it’s worth considering the potential for biassed feedback when interpreting results.

Best Practices for Conducting Focus Groups

Below are some of the steps that should be followed if you conclude that focus groups are the most effective research strategy to achieve your research goals:

Outline Clear Research Objectives

Understand what you want to achieve from the session. This will help tailor questions and discussion topics as well as provide insights on what kind of participants are required for the screening process.

Strategically Recruit a Representative Sample

Spend the time to ensure that the participants you recruit, provide an accurate representation of your target market. Conduct a thorough review to limit risk of any inappropriate participants being recruited.

Choose an Experienced, Neutral Moderator

Choosing an experienced moderator can improve the quality of the feedback. This is because they can use their skills to harness an unbiased and open discussion.

Limit Sessions to 60-90 Minutes

Limiting sessions to between 60 and 90 minutes and prioritising topics prevents any participant fatigue.

Offer Incentives for Participation

Using incentives, like cash or prizes, can help recruit motivated and willing participants but make sure this doesn’t overly influence feedback.

Use Both In-Person and Virtual Forums

Using both in person and remote focus groups will enable not only a wider participant reach but also the ability to read in-room body language.

Record Sessions for Review

Having an audio or video recording means you can re-watch the discussion with more focus and gather additional feedback which you may have missed at the time.

Combine With Quantitative Research

Combining focus group insights with other research methods, like surveys and polls, can help validate the feedback across a wider audience.

Focus Group Moderator Role & Responsibilities

A good (or bad) moderator can directly impact the effectiveness of the focus group and the feedback received. Their main responsibilities are:

Guiding Discussion Flow

The moderator will ask questions and elicit an open discussion on the relevant topics. This keeps conversation focused while maintaining a flow of questions.

Encouraging Participation

As well as guiding discussion, the moderator will encourage participation by prompting for inputs from more introverted members, so as feedback is not monopolised by the overly vocal participants.

Maintaining Neutrality

Moderators should always be seen as neutral. They will keep their own opinions separate from the discussion so as not to influence participants.

Probing for Detail

If a discussion covers a certain topic, the moderator may ask further questions to extract detailed responses from participants or to clarify an opinion.

Managing Challenging Situations

If a discussion becomes heated or covers a sensitive topic, the moderator should maintain the flow of discussion while de-escalating the situation.

Synthesising Key Themes

The moderator should also summarise the opinions and main theme of the discussion so any misunderstanding can be clarified with participants.

It’s important to have a good moderator who understands how to effectively conduct a focus group. They elicit discussion while minimising any distractions.

Analysing and Applying Focus Group Findings

To make the focus group as effective as possible:

Take Detailed Notes

Don’t rely on recordings or video, take detailed notes and highlight key themes or topics.

Review Recordings

Review any audio or videos of the discussion several times while taking notes.

Debrief With Other Observers

After the focus group, compare notes and discuss any themes identified with any other relevant observers.

Categorise Findings by Topic

By having your notes structures into categories or topics, it can allow identification of trends and patterns which can help with analysis.

Identify Insights That Align with Research Goals

Identify feedback that directly relates to your research goals rather than secondary, less important information.

Outline Actionable Recommendations

Once all feedback has been gathered, summarise the findings and assign any key actions.

Validate With Additional Research

Before deciding to proceed with any actions, validate the findings with a wider audience by using other market research methods like surveys or polls.

Focus Groups vs Other Market Research Methods

Although focus groups are an extremely important market research tool, they are not the only method you could use. Let’s look at some alternatives:

Interviews – Higher cost to implement on a larger scale but can provide valuable detail on individual opinion.

Surveys – Lacks detail but can cover a much larger demographic.

Observation – A good way to get a real-life view of how participants behave and react.

Website Analytics – Can highlight trends and data patterns if have an existing online presence.

Concept Testing – Allows fast feedback on a topic or concept before committing to investing fully.

Combining different market research methods such as focus groups; concept testing and surveys is often the most effective method for gathering accurate feedback.

Leveraging Online Focus Groups

Focus groups were usually almost always conducted in person. However, due to advances in video calling technology, remote sessions are now becoming increasingly more popular. They offer additional benefits such as:

Wider Geographical Reach – Removes any geographic restrictions on participation allowing diversity.

Easier To Schedule – Makes it easier to avoid any conflicts with participants’ personal life’s.

Lower Costs – No expenses for meeting rooms, travel or equipment needed for in person sessions

Faster Recruiting – Easier to access participants as can advertise on larger scale

Data Security – no manual documents or physical tapes as all stored electronically

Real-Time Interactivity – Maintains participant interaction and allows for non-verbal cues to be observed.

Play Stimuli – Allows for product demonstration and sharing of images or videos through screen sharing functionality.

Remote focus groups can allow you to highlight valuable insights while limiting logistical challenges.

Combining Focus Groups with Surveys

A combination of different research methods can be extremely effective when conducting market research as you can offset the weakness of one with the strength of another.

For example, surveys usually offer statistics on participants but lack detailed information on the reasoning behind such responses.

In comparison, focus groups can provide detailed insights into participants’ opinions but only on a small scale.

A blended approach may involve:

  • Conducting exploratory focus groups at the beginning of research project to understand any themes, trends or new idea to focus on
  • Using surveys to validate focus group insights on a larger sample of your target market
  • Follow-up focus groups to analyse findings of the survey to provide more context and understanding.

This blended approach of two research methods can validate feedback received and provide helpful consumer insights that may otherwise might not have been considered.

In Summary

When planned and implemented effectively, focus groups provide an excellent platform to have detailed discussions and gather valuable insights that can have a huge influence on a business’s branding, product offering or promotional strategies.

However, before proceeding with actions raised from a focus group, leaders need to consider some of the limitations such as groupthink. Limitations can be mitigated by conducting a thorough screening process, recruiting an experienced moderator and blending the findings with other research.

If conducted effectively, focus groups can be an incredibly good source of market research for organisations that can help with business growth and customer satisfaction.


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