Focus Group Interviews

A check among the largest consumer goods manufacturers in the United States showed that 98 percent used focus group interviews. Focus groups usually consist of 6 to 12 consumers brought together at one place to discuss the topic of interest. Many research organizations now have elaborate facilities for such groups that permit the discussions to be tape recorded or video recorded and that permit marketing and advertising executives to watch the proceedings through one way glass or on closed circuit TV. This latter aspect has become a major by-product of focus groups, for it enables executives to get a first person feel of consumer attitudes and reactions to the product or advertisement in question.

Research objectives of focus groups vary, but they are, or should be, consistent in not trying to measure quantitatively any of the topics of interest. Focus groups are intended to reveal some of the complex, subtle aspects of the relationship between consumers on the one hand ad products, advertising and sales effort s on the other. They provide qualitative or subjective, evidence of such things as consumer language used in talking about a product, emotional and behavioral reactions to advertising, lifestyle relationship to the product category of the specific brand and unconscious consumer motivations relative to the product and its promotion.

Focus Group Process: When a focus group is convened, the moderator (researcher) provides a brief general comment on the purpose of the meeting and suggests a specific topic to open the discussion. A typical approach is to have the group start talking about the general product category and the specific products within that category that they use. From this discussion the moderator may move the group to talk about how they feel about the products of interest and then move them to a discussion of their attitudes and behaviors towards the products and why they like some brands and not others.

The moderator attempts to let the group carry the conversation by itself, intervening only to introduce topics of importance that may not come up spontaneously; to move on when a topic has been exhausted; or to bring the discussion back to the area of interest when it has wandered into irrelevant areas. The interviews are usually taped so that the moderator can concentrate on keeping the discussion on track without fear of losing information, but can analyze the results later under conditions that permit careful attention to detail and thoughtful development of hypotheses.

Moderators must blend into the group so that they are accepted as one of the group rather than as a director who will ask question that the others must answer. This usually means female moderators for women’s groups, young moderators for young groups, and the like. Nevertheless, the moderator must enter the session with a detailed plan covering all areas to be discussed and the best way to introduce each area to encourage open discussion. At the same time, the moderator must not dominate the discussion; each participant must feel to bring up any topic.

Focus groups have become popular in marketing research because they give a direct feel of individual consumers. Other studies may provide averages, percentages, or more exotic calculations, but they are impersonal as a result. Reports based on focus-group interviews typically contain many direct quotations from the interview session. These can be highly useful and stimulating to marketing people; still it is important to remember that the value of focus groups is to provide such ideas, not to measure the size of market segments holding the ideas.