While it is an excellent methodology for many kinds of consumer research, there are times to use it and times not to.
In spite of the rapid growth of good marketing practices, some companies are still building their marketing plan based on ‘myth’, which lead them on the wrong path. And often times, they tend cut corners by eliminating a couple of steps to study their prospects. They believe marketing research consumes their time and budget. But how can you effectively and confidently sell your product? Marketing research helps evaluate your prospects, and eventually deal with them more effectively. It is a systematic collection, analysis and reporting data and findings relevant to your specific situation facing your product. You can actually obtain marketing research in a number of ways. One of the techniques that are becoming popular is the focus group discussion or the FGD.
According to Kreuger (1), FGD is “carefully planned discussion designed to obtain perceptions in a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment.” Bear in mind, focus group is not solely a marketing research but a portion of your research approaches. FGD composes a gathering of six to twelve individuals who are invited to spend a few hours with a skilled moderator to discuss a product, service, organization, or other marketing entity. The session consists of an average of one to 1.5 hours (so you can ask at most five or six questions). The meeting is typically held in a pleasant surrounding (refreshments are also served). Normally, participants are paid in a small amount for attending (gift certificate or gift packs of your product and a going-away amount of P1000). The key to the discussion is the moderator, who needs to be objective, knowledgeable on the issue, and skilled in group dynamic. He might start with broad questions, such as “How do you feel about your current facial care product?” Questions then move to how they regard the different brands available, and their view on trying a new brand. The moderator encourages free and easy discussions, hoping that the group will reveal deep feelings and thought while at the same time, he “focuses” the discussion. It is also critical that all members participate as much as possible, yet the session moves along while generating useful information. The entire discussions are recorded through note taking, audiotape, or videotape. Then, it is subsequently studied to understand consumer beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.
Focus group discussion is a useful exploratory step, but it is sometimes “a misused research tools in the business” writes Jack Trout (2) in his book The New Positioning. The process can be distorted (can you imagine turning bystanders into marketing experts?) You can never get around to the quantitative data, which based on a true sample of target audience. And you act on the opinions blurted out by those small groups of people. While it is an excellent methodology for many kinds of consumer research, there are times to use it and times not to.
Focus groups can be used at any point in a research program. Stewart and Shamdasani (3) have summarized the more common uses of focus groups to include: obtaining general background information about a topic of interest; generating research hypotheses that can be submitted to further research and testing using more quantitative approaches; stimulating new ideas and creative concepts; diagnosing the potential for problems with a new program, service or product; generating impressions of products, programs, services, institutions, or other objects of interest; learning how respondents talk about the phenomenon of interest which may facilitate quantitative research tools; interpreting previously obtained qualitative results.
However, do not depend solely on FGD for major marketing and budget decision. It is true that focus groups can provide a wealth of consumer ideas, tendencies, and perceptions, but qualitative data lacks statistical precision. Also, you must avoid generalizing the reported feelings of the focus group participants to the whole market, because the sample size too small. Though FGD has some shortcomings, many companies particularly in consumer goods have been using this for years, and an increasing number pharmaceuticals, publications and service organizations are discovering the value of it. It may seem abstract, complicated, and tentative, yet, focus group are being included as extension members of product management team, and their influence in the marketing strategy is growing. This methodology, when use in proper venue of your marketing planning it actually yields positive results . . . and it helps marketers to rethink their basic assumption.
HOW TO CONDUCT AN EFFECTIVE FGD?
Identify the major objective of the meeting.
- Collection of useful information for your product
- Data that can be used to set priorities, as input for your marketing plan
- Carefully develop questions
- Ask questions generally but follow up with add-on questions if the participants appear to have more to say.
- Get feedback on each question from at least half the group.
- For some of the questions it is a good idea to have them raise their hands to answer yes or no. You should count the responses.
- Also feel free to change the order of the questions if that makes more sense for your audience.
- Plan to provide the final results to participants.
Plan your session
- Scheduling : over lunch seems to be a very good .
- Setting and Refreshments: conference room is very ideal to conduct the session. Configure chairs (circle setup) so that all members can see each other. Provide name tags for members, refreshments, and box lunches if the session is held over lunch
- Ground Rules: a) keep focused, b) maintain momentum and c) get closure on questions.
- Agenda: a) welcome, b) review of agenda, c) review of goal of the meeting, d) review of ground rules, e) introductions, f) questions and answers, g) wrap up.
- Membership: select members who don’t know each other and who are likely to be participative and reflective.
- Recording: prepare either an audio or audio-video recorder.
Invite potential members
- Send them an invitation with a proposed agenda, session time and list of questions the group will discuss.
- Follow-up Calls- three days before the session, call each member to remind him or her to attend.
- Facilitating the Session
- Introduce yourself and the co-facilitator (if you have one)
- Explain the means to record the session.
Carry out the agenda
- Carefully word each question before the group addresses that question. Allow the group a few minutes for each member to carefully record their answers. Then, facilitate discussion around the answers to each question, one at a time.
- After each question is answered, carefully reflect back a summary of what you heard (the note taker may do this).
- Ensure even participation. If one or two people are dominating the meeting, then call on others. Consider using a round- table approach, including going in one direction around the table, giving each person a minute to answer the question. If the domination persists, note it to the group and ask for ideas about how the participation can be increased.
- Closing the session – Tell members that they will receive a copy of the report generated from their answers, thank them for coming, and adjourn the meeting.
Review outcomes after the session
- Immediately verify if the recorder worked throughout the session.
- Gather the notes taken and do not summarize or transcribe them.
- Review the moderator’s feedback on the focus group
- Write down any observations made during the session.
- Finalize the analysis based on your major goals or objectives of the meeting and present it to the stakeholders.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justine Castellon is an independent brand strategist, a business writer and founder of The Market Place 2.1 and Company. She provides creative thinking and interpretation of consumer and market insights. You may reach her Justine.firstname.lastname@example.org | Follow her at www.twitter.com/marketplace21
1 Kreuger, R.A. (1988). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research
2 Trout, Jack, & Steve Rivkin (1995). The New Positioning: The Latest on the World’s #1 Business Strategy
3 Stewart, D.W., & Shamdasani, P.N. (1990). Focus groups: Theory and practice.