By Maria Valdez Haubrich
Facebook and Twitter are great ways to get a feel for customer opinion—but sometimes you need more in-depth insights than these social media tools can provide. If you’re developing a new product, revamping your website or considering expanding your service offerings, it may be time to hold a focus group to find out what your customers (and potential customers) really think.
A focus group is a small group of people who are part of your target market, brought together to talk about your business for a couple of hours. To get started creating a focus group, you’ll need to determine the makeup of your target customers, such as income, age range, gender and other factors.
Although some entrepreneurs build focus groups from friends and family, this generally isn’t a good idea since these people have a vested interest in your success and may not be honest about what they really think. Instead, gather focus group members from existing customers, approach people at a local mall or public area to participate, or buy names from list rental companies.
You’ll want to keep your group relatively small so everyone has a chance to talk. About 6 to 10 people is usually optimal. Create a backup list in case people decline at the last minute. You’ll also need to pay, usually about $50 to $150 depending on the time involved and the complexity of the topic.
You can hold a focus group in your business’s offices or any quiet place where you can be undisturbed. Create a form that each person fills out to capture details such as age, gender, income, marital/household status and anything else that’s pertinent to what you’re researching. You’ll also need to record the group, ideally by using a video camera and having someone take notes. (Make sure participants sign a form agreeing that they can be recorded.)
What do you talk about? That depends on what you’re researching, but you should create a list of topics and questions beforehand. For instance, if you’re researching packaging for your new product, you’ll want to show the participants different color, name, font and packaging options. You might also want them to try opening the packaging, display the packaging as it might appear in a store, or ask them what feelings the packaging evokes.
Choose a moderator (not necessarily you) to lead the discussion and make sure everyone gets to talk. The moderator can guide the discussion back to productive areas and probe for more information.
Once the focus group ends, immediately review your notes and clarify anything that is unclear. Also write down your first impressions about what was said. Go over the information with your business partners or key managers.
Focus groups are only one part of market research, but done properly, they can be a very valuable part.
Image by Flickr user ByJoeLodge (Creative Commons)