The focus group is a venerable tool for getting into the minds of your target audience and using that knowledge to help your business make better marketing decisions. Essentially, it involves gathering your ideal prospects in a controlled setting to get their opinion of, and reaction to, a proposal, product, service, or initiative that your business is considering.
Patricia Lotich, founder of Thriving Small Business, a Bonita Springs, Florida-based business management consultancy, offers these perspectives on the uses and protocols of conducting an efficient and effective focus group session.
1. Have a clear objective for your focus group
Before you assemble consumers or prepare your questions, know why you're conducting the focus group in the first place. Is it to help you establish a new service? Discover what your target customer group thinks about a particular issue? Find ways to improve an existing product? Settling on one objective for the focus group should yield the best results.
2. Develop questions that fit the discussion
Start with an overview question to frame the discussion and then "drill down" for more granular details. For example, Lotich says, to find out why customers might not use a dry cleaner delivery service, you could ask: do you dry clean your clothes? How do you select a dry cleaner? What services do you look for in a dry cleaner? Have you ever used a dry cleaner delivery service? If no, why not? How much would you be willing to pay for this delivery service?
While it can be advantageous to hear from a wide number of viewpoints, too many participants in a focus group can result in an unwieldy session. Lotich says that eight to 10 people work best, allowing room and time for everyone to speak.
4. Choose a receptive group
You don't need participants to be devoted to your company, but you want consumers who possess a working understanding of the product or service under discussion. Also, try to find people with the same purchasing behaviors necessary for the product or service you're testing. Aim for holding three or four different focus group sessions with the same mix of people.
5. Decide on a moderator
It's certainly possible to conduct a focus group session yourself, but Lotich says that an outside professional facilitator could probably provide more objective results and perhaps add a fresh perspective in interpreting the findings.
The interactive nature of a focus group lets you collect the raw, first-hand reactions of consumers that can be used to help you develop or refine your product or service line.
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