in defense of focus groups

Focus groups get a lot of flak. They are sometimes accused of failing as a research methodology for many reasons – being held in an unnatural setting, encouraging groupthink, and glossing over the complexities of human behavior and thought processes.


No research methodology is without flaws but these are the top 5 reasons why I believe focus groups hold a valuable place in the research world:


  1. A skilled moderator will get more out of the conversation. When dealing with particularly complex topics, the moderator can lead the participants on a journey by delivering the right pieces of information at critical moments during the conversation. He or she can also push back when participants appear to be skirting the real issue.


  1. The conversation between focus group participants can create rich, detailed discourse. Alternative perspectives are explored, and potentially challenged or accepted. Individual opinions weave together to create a more complete understanding of the product/service being discussed.


  1. Focus groups allow for high-level segmentation of consumers. By isolating particular populations (men, mothers, those aged 50+, etc.) you begin to understand the nuances in consumer perceptions. No consumer set is homogeneous, and they shouldn’t be treated as such.


  1. The value clients get from watching their consumers live, in-person, should not be understated. Though there may be a one-way mirror in-between them, hearing the language and tone of voice used, and watching body language, makes a significant difference in understanding the story when compared to one-dimensional words on a piece of paper or screen.


  1. They are time and cost efficient. In an ideal world we would be able to sit down with individual research participants and really try to understand what makes them tick. The realities of our industry, however, mean we are working with tight deadlines and limited budgets. Sometimes the quick read we can get from several 2-hour focus groups is enough to allow our clients to move forward with confidence.