What Is a Market Research Focus Group?

Definition & Examples of Market Research Focus Groups

Image showing four people in a focus group and one moderator

The Balance / Maddy Price

A focus group is a group of deliberately selected people who participate in a facilitated discussion to obtain consumer perceptions about a particular topic or area of interest.

Learn more about focus groups and the advantages they provide in business.

What Are Focus Groups?

Market research focus groups are controlled interviews of a target audience that are led by facilitators. Participants in a focus group are selected based on a set of predetermined criteria, such as location, age, socioeconomic status, race, and more.

How Focus Groups Work

Focus groups are designed to identify consumers' feelings, perceptions, and thoughts about a particular product, service, or solution. The first step to having an effective focus group is to clearly define the purpose of the group. You need to know what you want the discussion to accomplish and what demographic best helps you achieve that. With a goal clearly defined, it's much easier to choose participants that are qualified to partake in the focus group.

Focus group discussions should be held in an environment that is non-threatening and receptive. Unlike interviews, which usually occur with an individual, a focus group allows members to interact and influence each other during the discussion and consideration of ideas.

The line of questioning used in focus groups—known as the questioning route, interview guide, or protocol—is predetermined and follows a logical sequence intended to mimic a natural exchange. The purpose of a focus group is not to arrive at a consensus, some level of agreement, or to decide what to do about something.

Moderators should avoid abrupt changes of direction or topic, and ensure that all participants have input and contribute equally.

Benefits of Focus Groups

Focus groups are valuable because they allow alternative ways of obtaining information from consumers without using surveys, which tend to be viewed as scientific and only produce quantitative data. Focus groups utilize qualitative data collection methods. Just as in the dynamics of real life, the participants are able to interact, influence, and be influenced—giving actionable insight into customers' knowledge of their brands, products, or services.

Focus groups have a distinct advantage over other types of market research because they are flexible by design. You can listen to someone's tone and view their body language when talking to better understand how they feel about a particular subject. A good moderator who prepares well for a focus group will act as a proxy for the decision-makers and capitalize on the ability to talk to customers directly.

Are Focus Groups Worth It?

If performed efficiently, market research focus groups are an excellent resource for businesses. The quality of a focus group's outcomes depends on the discussion and the ability to keep participants focused on the task. Exploring their deep feelings, perceptions, and decisions about the research topic is easier if participants are in a welcoming environment. Participants must be comfortable enough to interact openly.

Focus group research findings are robust. When focus group participants are genuinely engaged in the study, and the moderator is sufficiently skillful, the outcome can be clarity about major themes. Hard data is important in business, and it has its place, but it doesn't always tell the full story. Focus groups can help businesses make sense of the numbers and get a deeper understanding of their consumers.

Notable Happenings

Researchers are using much smaller groups to conduct market research than they have in the past—and with good results. The information garnered when using smaller numbers of participants in focus groups is more robust and probes consumers' unconscious or unexpressed preferences.

Some of the modes of analysis used for focus groups are radically different from the transcript-based analysis considered essential to focus group research in the past. Participants in focus groups have also become more socially diverse to reflect a globalized, interconnected audience. This requires additional awareness and sensitivity to participants, so they feel welcome sharing their true opinions during the focus group.

Key Takeaways

  • Focus groups participants are deliberately selected to get consumer feedback on products or services.
  • Participants in focus groups must fit a pre-determined criteria.
  • Focus groups provide more qualitative information than traditional surveys.