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FOCUS GROUP : Explore and define options

In a focus group 6 to 10 consumers meet in a special facility for approximately two hours. The facility enables you to view the group from behind a one-way mirror and to make audio- and videotapes. The group discussion is moderated by a professional interviewer in accordance with objectives set by you. Focus groups are very similar to customer visits in their profile of suitable and unsuitable objectives, but somewhat more narrow in their applicability. The broader applicability of customer visits stems from its field research aspect (you go to the customer site) and the amount of time spent with individual customers.

Focus groups are simply a particular kind of interview, and this makes them useful in the initial exploratory stages of the decision cycle where you are scanning the environment and generating options. For instance, you might do some focus groups to identify emerging issues as viewed by customers within a particular segment of the market. At a later point, you might use focus groups to explore the pros and cons of several possible themes being considered for a new ad campaign. Part of generating options is defining these options in as much detail as possible, and the give-and-take of group interaction can be quite productive in this respect.

Focus groups are probably more effective at exploring, defining, and generating than at identifying, describing, and monitoring; hence, their relegation to a contributing role during the environmental scanning stage. The power of focus groups comes from the interaction of customers within the group and whatever synergy results. The stimulus of group interaction is particularly useful when the goal is to generate fresh perspectives, define the differences among subgroups within the market, or explore consumer reactions. It is less useful when you want extensive descriptive data.

As with customer visits, generally speaking focus groups should never be used to select among options. The problem again centers on the small, bad samples of customers involved. Similarly, the skills brought by the outside interviewer to the conduct of focus groups is more than outweighed by the distorting potential of group influence and dominant participants. Problems of group influence and conformity pressure, together with the fact that focus groups are a laboratory rather than field procedure, make it impossible to recommend their use for even a contributing role during stage four, evaluation of outcomes. In this sense, focus groups constitute a more specialized tool than either secondary research or customer visits.

Reference: “The Market Research Toolbox” Edward F. McQuarrie

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