Focus groups provide a qualitative method of data collection. It functions with the help of a skilled moderator who facilitates a discussion with a small, selected group of participants for a specific amount of time.
Most focus groups involve between 6-10 respondents with a discussion that will last for 1-2 hours per session. The moderator will go over the different research topics, establish a safe environment for sharing, and follow-up on any topics that are potentially valuable – even if they weren’t part of the initial plan.
In-person focus groups usually gather around a table. Observers from the strategy team then sit behind a one-way mirror or in the back of the room to take notes. It is not unusual for the discussion to be recorded for later review to ensure all useful information was gleaned from the topic.
Several focus group advantages and disadvantages are worth considering if a business has a new concept that it wants to bring to the marketplace.
List of the Advantages of Focus Groups
1. It provides a diverse set of responses based on interviewee profiles.
Focus groups provide a useful way to measure the reaction of customers to a new corporate strategy, proposed service, or a new product. The individuals who participate in these gatherings can provide immediate ideas that may improve the concepts being introduced through this medium.
This structure also helps to identify the product requirements of users while discovering pain points that don’t get met as intended. That means you can receive insight into your current position in relation to the competition while measuring reactions to packaging, design, and price.
2. Focus groups can confirm insights obtained from other methodologies.
Qualitative research methods can produce a significant amount of data about a concept. The only problem with that approach for some investigators is that the information can feel impersonal or lack authenticity. If the findings from previous efforts seem questionable, then a focus group can either confirm or deny the insights that researchers obtained through the use of other methodologies.
Once the responses get cataloged after a focus group session, then the researchers can continue their pursuit of a concept or make the necessary adjustments to address the pain points brought up in the conversation.
3. It provides easy organizational methods in B2C settings.
Focus groups bring like-minded consumers together to have a conversation about an idea or product concept. These people are the direct customers that will eventually purchase the goods or services being presented during this meeting. It is a research method that’s easy to organize because there will be interested individuals who want to take a first look at something new.
Consumers often feel empowered when they can provide useful feedback about a concept. That emotional attachment then leads to word-of-mouth marketing and brand loyalty that converts into sales once the idea reaches the marketplace.
4. Using focus groups is a cost-effective way to get information.
Focus groups are usually held in communities where a specific marketing effort to a unique demographic is anticipated for a future concept. Participants sign up for these conversations today from locations all over the world. That means you can take a localized approach while gaining the international diversity needed to address potential pain points with an idea.
Some focus groups can even happen online because of web conferencing software that exists today. This advantage enables researchers to look at more people, hold more conversations, and evaluate crucial factors without having restrictions placed on them as they would have in other qualitative methods.
5. Focus groups can provide time-saving opportunities.
A focus group provides a condensed structure that makes it much easier to solicit a high number of opinions or feedback. The design allows for moderators to cover multiple aspects of a concept without going through the time-intensive process of conducting an individualized interview multiple times to gather information.
Since saving time is a critical advantage during the research phase of product or service development in an evolving marketplace, a comprehensive focus group can expedite the idea’s journey.
6. The discussion in a focus group typically builds on top of each answer.
Focus groups provide a unique way to develop information because the answers of each individual typically build on top of one another. Each person can provide their perspective or opinion, and then the experiences of the others in the room can work to expand or contradict the initial concept shared. It allows everyone to consider answers that they normally wouldn’t have thought about by themselves, giving the moderator a complete set of information to use as they bring a concept to the marketplace.
7. A focus group provides anonymity for many of the participants.
Although you sign up for a focus group using your name and other personal information, there is a certain level of anonymity that participants receive during their discussion. No one usually knows anyone else in the room, encouraging honest answers about sometimes difficult topics. When moderators can receive a multitude of open responses about their concept, then it is easier for them to address any cultural, social, or economic issues that might develop around an idea.
8. It is an affordable way to conduct research.
Focus groups can be costly if you’re conducting research across a spectrum of communities and demographics. If investigators want to receive some specific data points about the direction of their work, then this qualitative approach can be an affordable and effective way to receive real-time feedback. When someone needs to gather critical information from the largest possible group in the shortest amount of time, then this option tends to be a money saver.
9. It can yield a richer amount of data.
Surveys and questionnaires can give researchers some hard data to use when evaluating a specific concept. Focus groups allow for more brainstorming opportunities with individual participants to create new ideas and approaches. This process leads to richer feedback because it includes the complexities of behavior and thought from the participants. Since moderators also receive a significant amount of feedback from multiple people in a short amount of time, it can speed the process of a product through the development cycles into prototyping and manufacturing.
List of the Disadvantages of Focus Groups
1. B2B settings are challenging to organize.
Focus groups look at B2C concepts primarily because it is challenging to bring business representatives into the same room to present a product. The needs of each organization can vary widely, even when they operate within the same industry. Companies that provide goods or services in the B2B space often provide individualized support already when working with their contacts.
That’s not to say that B2B focus groups are impossible. They just present a unique logistical challenge that may not be worth the investments required to host them.
2. Individuals in a focus group have less speaking time than in interviews.
Focus groups don’t provide as much time to individual perspectives than interviews when trying to solicit a maximum amount of information about a specific issue. This disadvantage can cause some participants to rush through their perspectives because they feel like there won’t be another chance to say something. Others can be hesitant to express their thoughts because they fear that someone else in the room will criticize them.
Most people will agree with the dominant voice in the room, even if their views differ. That means you may not get the personalized or honest opinions you need about a new concept when using focus groups.
3. Some focus group members can dominate the conversation.
People who have dominant and extroverted personalities tend to dominate the conversations that happen in a focus group. Moderators try to temper this disadvantage by asking specific questions to each person so that individual feedback gets encouraged, but there will always be a few people who have an aggressive approach to providing feedback.
When a single person dominates the conversation in a focus group, the tendency to build upon an idea will center around that individual’s contributions. That means the quality of the information gathered from this research process may not have the same levels of validity.
4. It can be challenging to prevent bias from the moderator.
Moderators can impact the outcome of a focus group discussion because of the bias they bring into the room. This disadvantage may occur inadvertently or intentionally as the participants exchange ideas about a concept. When this issue happens, then the results can create an inaccurate representation of how the group feels about the idea. Moderators can lead the participants into reaching specific conclusions or assumptions, and some in the group may decide to avoid stating their opinion to avoid disappointing the person in charge.
5. The cost of a focus group can be prohibitive.
Focus groups are more expensive to execute when compared to questionnaires or surveys. Although some participants will offer their time for free, many expect to receive compensation for their feedback in some way. Additional expenses happen behind the scenes to develop the questions or product demonstrations so that the participants get asked the right questions. If the queries don’t elicit the type of responses that are valuable to the market research, then the investment gets wasted.
6. Security concerns can alter the quality of the data collected.
Most moderators try to eliminate as many distractions as possible when conducting a focus group. This approach allows the participants to focus on the information being presented and offer their opinions on each concept. Some conversations can get heated when opinions differ, especially if the research involves politics or religion. When people disagree passionately, their emotional responses can sometimes head toward violent tendencies almost immediately.
Inadequate screening processes can create valid safety concerns when designing a focus group project. If someone feels unsafe when asked to provide an opinion, then there is an excellent chance that they won’t offer authentic feedback.
7. Some people struggle to stay engaged in focus groups.
Focus groups require individuals to stay engaged for up to two hours in a conversation that can go through a number of different concepts. It is not unusual for people to express themselves non-verbally when they aren’t providing a direct answer, showing agreement or disagreement regarding an opinion or idea. These cues can sometimes get misinterpreted by a moderator or the other participants in the group, creating a false narrative for a concept that may be a trigger that leads it to the marketplace – or takes it away.
8. There is no guarantee that people will participate in a focus group.
After all of the screening and invitations go out, some people may attend a focus group while having a bad day. Someone might not feel well when it is their time to report to the conversation. A number of outside influences can disrupt how a person feels about the entire concept. That means there is no guarantee that an individual will decide to participate in a focus group, even if that person pushes hard to have a spot at the table.
Moderators must recognize these circumstances immediately to create more engagement. Empathetic responses, sympathy, and accommodations can often reduce or eliminate the influences of this disadvantage. Some people may decide not to participate until a specific moment because they want to gather as much information as possible before starting.
When looking at these focus group advantages and disadvantages, the social interactions that take place will often dictate the quality of information you receive. The data can be valuable when a skilled moderator can shift gears or change directions to encourage everyone’s participation in the process. When one dominant voice enters, the results can be imperfect at best – and harmful if a concept goes to market with imprecise info backing it up.
That means researchers must focus on the quality of each question asked while having the skill to follow up on unexpected answers. This combination creates a chance to glean insights from people in a targeted demographic that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Focus groups provide valuable data in the B2C world with consistency. If screening processes can work to eliminate bias, then this investment is one that makes a lot of sense.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.