I hear the term “Focus group” used a lot, but often it just describes having some kind of discussion about a topic. A focus group is a valuable subjective marketing research tool….when it follows the proper methodology.
A focus group brings together 10 to 12 people to participate in a 90-minute discussion about a specific topic. The participants should be representative of the total population from which they are drawn.
A professional moderator leads the conversation, following a prepared outline (“Discussion Guide”). All opinions and responses are valid, and only one person speaks at a time. The moderator keeps everyone focused on the topic and directs the conversation in a productive way. A good moderator encourages all participants to share and will discretely steer the discussion away from someone who begins to dominate. The goal is to empower people to feel safe about contributing their own opinions and ideas.
The discussion is recorded, and the moderator reviews the comments and prepares a report that describes the opinions and awareness of people about the subject area and draws some conclusions about the ideas where there was a consensus.
I nearly always use at least one focus group discussion to develop an effective survey questionnaire for a random sample survey.
The result of a good focus group discussion is a surprising wealth of information that can be utilized for gaining new ideas and fresh perspectives and making planning decisions.