The Group Discussion or Focus Group

This article covers the basic fundamentals of qualitative market research. It provides the typical process of conducting market research, from creating focus groups to picking a venue and conducting interviews.

This article covers the basic fundamentals of qualitative market research. It provides the typical process of conducting market research, from creating focus groups to picking a venue and conducting interviews.

Background to Market Research
Market Research is a systematic, objective collection and analysis of data about a particular target market, competition, and/or environment. It always incorporates some form of data collection whether it is secondary research (often referred to as desk research) or primary market research, which is collected direct from a respondent.

The purpose of any market research project is to achieve an increased understanding of the subject matter. With markets throughout the world becoming increasingly more competitive, market research is now on the agenda of many organisations, whether they are large or small.

Market Research is either quantitative, qualitative, or a combination of both. Qualitative and quantitative market research methods each provide different insights into customer behaviour. Normally, research results are more useful when the two methods are combined.

Qualitative Market Research
Qualitative research provides an understanding of how or why things are as they are. For example, a Market Researcher may stop a consumer who has purchased a particular type of bread and ask him or her why that type of bread was chosen. Unlike quantitative research there are no fixed set of questions but, instead, a topic guide (or discussion guide) is used to explore various issues in-depth. The discussion between the interviewer (or moderator) and the respondent is largely determined by the respondents' own thoughts and feelings.

There are various types of qualitative market research methodologies. Research of this sort is mostly done face-to-face. One of the best-known techniques is the market research group discussion (or focus group).

Group Discussion or Focus Group in Detail
The group discussion as the name suggests is where a group of respondents gather together in the same room. The group normally consists of pre-screened people who are relevant to the specific target market being researched.

Group Recruitment
To conduct the screening process market research recruiters are normally employed to recruit the relevant respondents. They will either contact people by phone or ‘on-street’ depending on the subject matter of the research. To aid recruitment, respondents are normally offered some sort of incentive whether it be cash, vouchers or something specific/relevant to the research project. However, in terms of the ease of recruitment, cash always goes down better – in the UK respondents are normally likely to receive anything from £15-£40 depending on the length of the group discussion. But harder to reach audiences such as Doctors can be paid anything up to £150.

The Venues
Groups take place in a variety of places. They normally take place in one of the following:

  • Viewing Facility: These are specifically designed for group discussions. Rooms contain one-way mirrors so that clients can observe the discussion. Respondents cannot see out but researchers and clients can see in. In addition, viewing facilities normally give the option of using a video recorder so that others can view the meeting at a later date. Transcripts and/or summaries can also be produced from the audio/video tape.
  • Hotel Venue: Rooms are also used within hotels. Researchers normally opt for a ‘relaxed’ layout (i.e. no barriers) as opposed to a formal business layout.
  • In Home: Recruiters sometimes offer their homes for the groups to take place in. This is perhaps the cheapest venue option and the most personal i.e. non-business like.
  • On-site: Groups also sometimes take place at the workplace of the client company.

The Waiting Period
After the recruitment process, it’s a case of ‘fingers crossed’ that everyone turns up. Groups usually consist of 8 to 12 members in the room and the session normally lasts between 1 to 2 hours. Even with offering good incentives not all respondents will always turn up to the actual group. To overcome this problem some recruiters will over recruit e.g. recruit 10 respondents for 8 to take part in the group. If all 10 turn up, the extra 2 can either take part in the group or be ‘paid off’ – depending on what the research moderator (the person who controls the discussion) decides.

Conducting the Group
After going through the worrying process of hoping that everyone will turn up (especially if the client has travelled a long way and wants to view the group) the research moderator will guide the group through a discussion that probes attitudes about a client’s proposed products or services or any other subject matter. The discussion is unstructured and the moderator encourages the free flow of ideas (there are no right or wrong answers). However, the researcher will have a set of topics (usually contained within a topic guide or discussion guide document) and clear objectives for the group. It is important that the group covers the initial research objectives.

Different Versions of the Group Discussion
Apart from the traditional format of the group discussion (as described above) there are a number of other slight variations, which include the following:

  • Two-Way Focus Groups: one group watches another group and discusses the observed interactions and conclusions
  • Dual Moderator: one moderator ensures the session progresses smoothly, while another makes sure that all relevant bits are covered
  • Respondent Moderator: one or more of the respondents are asked to act as the moderator temporarily
  • Client Participation: where the client takes part in the group either actively or in an observation role
  • Mini Groups: contain 4 or 5 respondents
  • Telephone Groups: take place over the phone (tele-conference)
  • Online Groups : computers and the internet is used

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