Commercial Sector – tips to help plan your focus groups

We have done many focus groups and consultations in the commercial sector over the years on projects ranging from cider to insurance to toothpaste.  All projects are different; budgets, objectives, timescales etc.  We approach each one with the sole objective of matching budget with the best qualitative market research solution.  So here are 4 things we’ve learnt to explore with our clients when planning focus groups.

1: RecruitmentGet this wrong and the market research is invalid.  But, be too prescriptive and all you end up with are one or two discussions that tell you pretty much what you know already.  Market research should be about finding new insight.  So, when looking at your recruitment brief consider carefully what is and isn’t non-negotiable. How important are newspaper titles and hobbies, how important is age, how important is family make-up?  They might all be –  so make sure you emphasise this but also be prepared to be flexible.  What you want is a group that looks at your product/service/idea and generates relevant, in-depth and considered answers that you can use.  We work with some of the best recruiters in the business and they have delivered really great respondents to really tricky briefs but sometimes a bit of pragmatism is needed.

2: Asking the right questions.  We usually recommend 90 minutes for most focus groups.  Workshops can be as long as 2 ½ hours and depths as short as 20 minutes.  Whatever the format we write a tight & timed discussion guide that tries to ensure that the objectives of the research are achieved.  Don’t ask questions that you already know the answer to or include lots of ‘nice to have’ questions that are completely separate from the main focus of the brief.  The former is a waste of money, the latter is another research project.

3: Regionality.  Is it really important to recruit focus groups around the country? Is there a geographic bias that needs to be explored? Are there going to be regional differences in the communications strategy?  If so, then ensure that the balance of groups really does represent the shopping habits, purchase profiles, media campaign.  If there is no bias or difference, then consider one location and recruit more groups to represent the different types of consumer.  This saves a huge amount of travel costs and will still deliver excellent insight.

4: Debrief.   Intelligent analysis is what makes good qualitative research stand out. Our approach is aim for the highest standards to help our clients. But it is important to ensure that you ask for the right debrief at the start and discuss this with your team. The type of debrief you want may also influence where you hold the groups.  We love viewing suites.  We have our favourites and our clients enjoy and get a lot of benefit from observing their groups and it enables some initial debriefing and discussion with them immediately after each group.  The recordings and films from the viewing studios have been of excellent quality and our final debriefs have been made easier as a result.  However, if your budget is tight and your timescales are short then maybe consider exactly what you want out of the debrief.  Do you really want edited film clips, transcripts, executive summaries, Word documents or PowerPoint presentations?  Or you may just want some brief, quick actionable insight that is going to enable you to take the next steps with confidence –  and then maybe you need less volume of documentation.  Just because there is less paper doesn’t mean there is less insight.