How To Run A Focus Group
Since their debut in the 1950s, focus groups have become central to advertising and marketing research. In a focus group, a handful of people focus their discussion on a certain topic, product or product category. The describe how they use a product and what caused them to buy it. When they work, focus groups reveal consumer behavior.
But something has gone awry. When marketers and advertising agencies run out of ideas, they often ask consumers to do their homework for them. They expect focus groups to make decisions they themselves should make.
Many marketers who sponsor groups expect too much and put in too little. When unsure of themselves, the answer becomes, "Let's run more groups." One company sponsored 65 focus groups and the manager still considered the results inconclusive. While this is good business for the research supplier, it doesn't say much for management savvy. To avoid such problems, here are seven tips on how to run a successful focus group.
"Among some clients there is paranoia that a group can go sour if it is not tightly controlled", according to Ira Berenhaus, research manager of the Wool Bureau. But controlling a focus group defeats its purpose. "The reason that groups are so helpful is that there is give and take," explains Berenhaus. Unfortunately, he says, clients expect a focus group to mesh perfectly with the notions they bring in. "Clients ought to realize that ideas and groups don't always work out the way you expect.
If you are not at the focus group, you won't know what happened. The president of a famous cheese company sat in stunned disbelief as one group after another criticized his cheese, his company's advertising and his company. No report could have communicated what he learned by sitting in back of the mirror. There was a happy ending: he repackaged his product, renamed it and repositioned it in the marketplace. His sales doubled.
These insights can yield marketing breakthroughs. Arm & Hammer's famous baking-soda-in-the-refrigerator campaign came about because of focus groups. The people behind the mirrors saw something and built on it.
Mr. Feig is president-creative director of New Products Workshop Inc. This article is one of several that was published in American Demographics.