It is widely assumed that focus groups are reserved for large corporations that can afford the cost of using professional market research firms. Smaller businesses, however, are now running successful focus groups at manageable costs.
If you are considering running your own focus group, you will need to determine your objective carefully. Write down what it is you want to learn, and make sure that everyone involved in planning and coordinating the focus group has a copy.
Next you need to incorporate the following elements:
- The Script: It can be written in-house to save money and to incorporate your own specific needs. It should present the questions in a clear manner and encourage discussion. The script should contain a little entertainment value — humor, etc. — to keep participants interested.
- The Moderator: He or she can be found internally or can be recruited from outside. The moderator — who will lead the discussion and ask follow-up questions — needs to be comfortable public speaking, to follow the script, and to be capable of putting people at ease. As owner of the business, you should not moderate, but you can observe the focus group.
- The Site: Select a comfortable, well-lit, distraction-free setting, such as a boardroom or even a lounge.
- Food and Beverages: Offer food and beverages before, during, and after the discussion.
- Monitoring: Use a camera, a two-way mirror (when available), and/or a tape recorder. Let people know when they are being watched or recorded.
- Timeframe: Two to two-and-a-half hours is usually a satisfactory time period. Be sure to include at least one short break, depending on the length and involvedness of the endeavor.
- Evaluations: Chart the responses, review the discussion, play the tape several times, and try to be objective. Do not try to find the answers you want to find.
- Recruiting: You may want to make use of a local marketing firm to recruit from within their database. You can do your own recruiting, but it may mean literally standing on a street corner looking to sign up people who meet a list of criteria. This can be time-consuming. You can also use local sites like craigslist.org, though this too may prove to be a lengthy option, depending on your criterion, any payment offered, and the number of responses received.
Typically, two or three focus groups will suffice for any particular objective. The key is to be prepared before the participants enter and to evaluate the data objectively.