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8 Tips for Better Focus Groups

by Phil Glowatz
copyright 1997 by Phil Glowatz

Phil Glowatz & Associates, which has initiated and conducted
many hundreds of focus groups for major firms, has
developed the following guidelines to help clients
get more bang for their focus group bucks:

Setting Up Your Groups

  1. Be picky, picky, picky. Specify exactly and in detail the types of consumers you want interviewed, as the wrong respondents can mislead you mightily. Remember, no matter how stringent your requirements are, recruiting costs probably won't vary more than a couple of hundred dollars per group.

  2. Sssshhhh! For secrecy's sake, screen out anyone who has ever worked in advertising, marketing or marketing research, for newspapers, magazines, television or radio stations, or for companies that make or distribute products even remotely similar to yours. Also, for food groups, we recommend excluding people on strict religious diets (e.g., Kosher, Muslim, Hindu) as well as those with food allergies; it's too easy for them to say "No" to a product.

  3. . Make consumers audition for you. Include an articulation question in your screening questionnaire (e.g., "Describe the shopping malls of 2050, and how they will be different from today's malls."). If potential respondents can't communicate their thoughts coherently to recruiters, you don't want them in your focus groups.

  4. Give generously. Money motivates attendance of respondents. An extra five dollars a head can make the difference between empty seats and full ones, so make sure your moderator has allowed enough for gratuities.

  5. Think big. Have your moderator request the largest observation room in a particular facility. If you're going to be in a darkened room for eight hours, you may as well be comfortable.

  1. Managing/Observing Your Groups

  2. Trust thy moderator to stray. Allow your moderator to deviate from the discussion guide, and pursue an unplanned probe on a particular issue. A key insight might be gained.

  3. Listen with your eyes. Respondents' body language is often more important than their spoken words, especially when reacting to concepts. When they look bored, they are bored, and in new products, boredom usually spells failure. When they act excited, you've tapped into emotions, an essential element of new products success.

  4. Don't take "yes" for an answer. Consumers are often promiscuous in "voting" for concepts in groups, but that doesn't mean they'll actually buy those products in the real world. So, ask your moderator to challenge positive comments--and try to uncover objections--even if that makes you uncomfortable. Remember, your goal is success in the marketplace, not feeling good in the observation room.

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