Businesses that invest in focus groups obviously want to generate reliable, relevant data that can be used to make smarter, faster and ultimately more profitable decisions on everything from product development to customer service. Indeed, there’s a reason why market research focus groups have been around for several decades: they work!
Or rather, they can and should work. However, many businesses that run their own focus groups vs. partner with a full-service market research agency almost always make one, some or all of these fundamental mistakes:
Not grasping how participants say things — and what they don’t say.
Focus group participants are honest, and they have no interest or incentive to share a false or misleading opinion. After all, we are talking about a 100 percent voluntary — not to mention relaxed and enjoyable — focus group; not a withering, intense cross examination on the witness stand!
However, businesses that run their own focus groups are so fixated on what participants are saying (i.e. the actual words they use), that they fail to notice — or may simply lack the training and ability to notice — how participants are communicating, and even more subtly, what they are NOT saying.
All of these need elements — words, tone, selective speech and body language — need to be captured to tell a more complete, and therefore more complete and cohesive story.
Not leveraging enough interaction.
Even with the above in mind, there can be a gap between what participants say, and what they actually do.
Again, this is not because participants are intentionally being deceptive or misleading, or they lack self-awareness. They are simply being human.
For example, participants may readily acknowledge that they are open to learning about new technology. However, if they are presented with a mobile app that obliges them to spend five minutes reading a “how to use this app” article or watching a 5-minute video, they may get frustrated — and either balk at the task, or demonstrate their unhappiness (i.e. they may learn about the app, but only because they are in a focus group — at home or at work, they would be much more likely to just delete it from their device, or perhaps avoid downloading it in the first place).
Designing activities that reveal what participants actually do vs. what they say they do requires very careful planning and a level of expertise (both in market research science and individual/group dynamics) that most businesses do not have in-house, and therefore must augment with outside help.
Generalizing data based on small sample sizes.
Many businesses rush to generalize what they learn from focus groups. For example, they may speak with 5 customers who all agree that “customer service needs to be improved.”
This may indeed be the case, and could be the basis of investments in training, technology, and other tactics and strategies to improve customer service. However, it may not be the case at all. Or, businesses may head in the wrong direction — i.e. they may spend money on staff training, when what they should be focusing on is adding self-support tools and resources to their website.
To avoid heading down the wrong road, businesses typically need to partner with an agency so they can run multiple focus groups, and possibly in different parts of the state or country. What’s more, other data generation methods — such as online and email surveys — usually need to be part of the mix, so that the picture can be clarified (i.e. identifying how to improve customer service, etc.).
To learn more about avoiding these mistakes — or correcting them if you are currently running focus groups and want to ensure that the insights you glean are accurate and actionable — then contact the Communications For Research team today. You’ll speak to our co-CEO Colson Steber about how focus groups may fit into your market research plans.