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GuidesResearch methods7 focus group examples for your next qualitative research project

7 focus group examples for your next qualitative research project

Last updated

9 March 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Qualitative research is a fact-finding method for exploring and understanding people's beliefs, attitudes, experiences, and behaviors.

It involves collecting and analyzing data for insights into complex phenomena and social issues.

Qualitative research methods can include interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis. Unlike quantitative research’s focus on numerical, objective data, qualitative research aims to understand the subjective meaning behind participants' experiences and behavior.

Researchers take this detailed data and analyze it using techniques such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory to identify patterns and themes in the data.

Qualitative research can inform policies, design interventions, or improve services. 

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What is a focus group?

A focus group is a qualitative fact-finding method involving a small group of five to 10 people discussing a specific topic or issue. A moderator leads the group, poses open-ended questions, and encourages participant discussion and interaction.

A focus group aims to gain insights into participants' opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about the discussed topic. 

Marketing research, product development, and social sciences use focus groups to understand consumer behavior, attitudes, and preferences. They can also explore social issues, gather feedback on new ideas, or evaluate the effectiveness of a program or intervention.

You can conduct in-person or online focus groups and record and transcribe the sessions for analysis. You use thematic or content analysis to analyze the data and identify patterns in the participants' responses.

Why do researchers use focus groups?

Researchers use focus groups for various reasons, primarily to gain qualitative insights and opinions from people with similar characteristics. 

Here are other reasons for focus groups:

Understand consumer behavior

Focus groups are ideal in marketing research for gathering insights into consumer preferences and behavior. Researchers can better understand what motivates their target audience, needs, wants, and what drives their purchasing decisions.

Gather feedback on new ideas

Focus groups can gather feedback on new products, services, or ideas. Researchers can present a new concept to a focus group and ask for their opinions to see how well they receive the idea. They can also learn what changes might be necessary and the potential market.

Evaluate the effectiveness of programs or interventions

Focus groups can help evaluate the effectiveness of a program or intervention. Researchers can ask participants to share their experiences and opinions to gain insights into their experience with the program. They can determine what aspects of the program work well, what could be improved, and its impact on participants.

Explore social issues

Focus groups can help explore social issues, such as attitudes toward a particular topic or the impact of a social program. Bringing together a diverse group of people can help researchers gain a more nuanced understanding of the issue and identify potential solutions or interventions.

Focus groups are a helpful tool for gaining qualitative insights and opinions from people with shared attributes. You can use these groups in different settings, and they’re handy for exploring complex issues that require in-depth understanding.

When should you use a focus group?

Here are some situations where a focus group might be appropriate:

  • If you’re launching a new product or service and want to gather feedback on your concept, features, and branding

  • To better understand your target audience's behavior, attitudes, and partiality by helping you identify patterns and trends in their decision-making

  • When you want to evaluate the effectiveness of a program or intervention by understanding the participant's experiences and opinions

  • If you want to develop effective marketing strategies with insights into what resonates with your target audience

  • When you want to explore social issues, such as the impact of a social program, and gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand

Focus groups are less useful for situations where you need quantitative data or a representative sample of the broader population. It's essential to carefully plan your focus group, including selecting willing participants, choosing a moderator, and developing a discussion guide to achieve your research goals.

7 examples of focus groups

Researchers can use focus groups in different settings to gather feedback and opinions on products, services, or topics. Here are some examples of focus groups:

1. Product testing

Marketers can use a focus group to test a new product. For example, a company plans to launch a new line of skincare products and wants to get feedback from potential customers before the launch. The company organizes focus groups with participants who match their target market demographic and supplies a moderator with a discussion guide.

The moderator asks the focus group participants to try the products and provide feedback on the product's packaging, scent, texture, effectiveness, and overall appeal. 

They question participants about their current skincare routine, what products they use, and what they look for in skincare products.

The company changes the product packaging, ingredients, and pricing based on feedback. This ensures the product meets the needs and preferences of the target market. 

Now, the company can launch the new skincare line with confidence that its target market will love the product.

2. Advertising campaigns

Focus groups can test the success of advertising campaigns. Participants provide feedback on the ad's messaging, visuals, and tone, helping a company refine the campaign before launch.

For example, a brand organizes a focus group with participants who match their target demographic before launching their new advertising campaign.

If the focus group participants find the ad's message too complicated or unclear, the company can simplify the message based on feedback. This makes the ad more attractive and digestible for its target audience.

3. Political campaigns

Political participants can use focus groups to gather information about: 

  • What issues are most important to voters

  • How voters feel about the candidate and their message

  • How the candidate can improve their message and campaign strategy

For example, a political campaign might convene a focus group of voters from a particular demographic, such as suburban women or young adults. 

The leader might ask the focus group questions about their feelings and attitudes towards the candidate, the issues they care about most, and how they perceive the candidate's stance.

4. Market research

Marketers can use focus groups to gather information about consumers' likes and dislikes about a particular product or service. They can use this information to guide product development, marketing, and advertising strategies.

For example, a company forms a focus group to gather feedback on a new product concept, such as a new type of food packaging. 

The moderator asks the focus group questions about their perceptions of the product, the likelihood of purchasing it, and any suggestions they have for improving it. 

5. Product development

Focus groups can gather qualitative data from potential users or customers to understand their needs, preferences, and experiences with the product.

Companies can use focus groups at different stages, from the initial concept development to the testing and refinement of prototypes. 

For example, a business gathers a focus group to provide feedback on a new music streaming service app, and participants answer questions about: 

  • Their experiences with their current music streaming experiences

  • Preferences for layout

  • Impressions of the new streaming service

Product development teams can use this feedback to ensure the product meets the needs and expectations of the target market.

6. Healthcare

Healthcare focus groups can gather feedback and insights from patients, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders. 

Healthcare providers can use focus groups to gather qualitative data on various topics, including patient experiences, healthcare delivery, policies, and products.

For example, a provider uses a focus group to gather feedback on a new healthcare policy related to access to care. Participants answer questions about their experiences accessing healthcare, opinions on the policy, and any suggestions for improvements.

7. Education

Educators can use focus groups to get insights into student experiences and preferences to improve the quality of education and student engagement. 

Focus groups can also collect feedback from teachers and parents on issues such as teaching methods, parental involvement, and student performance.

Decision-makers can use this feedback to improve curriculum development, teaching methods, school policies, and educational products to meet the needs of students and educators.

The pros and cons of focus groups

Focus groups are a popular research method to gather feedback and opinions from small, diverse groups. While focus groups can provide valuable insights, they also have drawbacks.

Benefits

Provides in-depth insights

Focus groups allow in-depth discussions and more comprehensive insights into a topic. Participants can provide detailed feedback and share their opinions, attitudes, and experiences.

Encourages group dynamics

Focus groups encourage participants to interact and discuss the topic with each other, generating new ideas and insights. Participants can build on each other's thoughts and ideas, leading to a more extensive and nuanced discussion.

Cost-effective

Conducting a focus group can be less expensive than other research methods, such as one-on-one interviews or surveys. It can be more cost-effective to gather a group in one location rather than travel to different locations to conduct individual interviews.

Can be used to test ideas

Focus groups can test new ideas, products, or services before they launch. It allows companies to gather feedback from potential customers, enabling more informed decisions.

Flexibility

Researchers can adapt focus groups to various topics and settings, from academic research to market research.

Speed

The moderator can conduct focus groups quickly, making them a valuable tool for gathering data in a short amount of time.

Drawbacks

Small sample size

Focus groups usually involve a small number of participants. The opinions of a focus group may not represent the broader population.

Potential bias

Group dynamics can influence the opinions and attitudes of a focus group, so they may not reflect the opinions of individual participants. 

Limited scope

Focus groups may only provide insights into a specific topic or product instead of broader insights into consumer behavior or attitudes.

Time-consuming

Conducting a focus group can be time-consuming, as it requires organizing and scheduling participants, setting up a location, and analyzing the data.

Interpretation

The interpretation of focus group data can be subjective and dependent on the researcher's perspective and biases.

Researchers should use focus groups and other research methods to ensure comprehensive and accurate findings.

How do you run a focus group?

Here are some steps to follow when running a focus group:

  • Before planning your focus group, define your research objectives and determine what you hope to achieve through the focus group.

  • Determine your target audience by categorizing them with common characteristics to provide the necessary insights.

  • Identify potential participants that fit your target audience, offer an incentive to encourage participation, and recruit them for the focus group. 

  • Select a skilled moderator to facilitate the discussion and keep it focused. The moderator should understand qualitative research techniques and have good interpersonal skills.

  • Develop a discussion guide outlining the questions for the focus group. The questions should elicit insights and opinions from participants on the research objectives.

  • Hold the focus group in a comfortable, quiet location. Introduce the moderator and explain the purpose of the focus group. The moderator should guide the discussion, asking questions from the discussion guide and encouraging participation from everyone.

  • Record the discussion using audio or video recording equipment. Consider taking notes during the discussion to capture critical points.

  • Transcribe the audio or video recording and analyze the data to identify patterns and themes. 

  • Use the data to draw conclusions and make recommendations based on the research objectives. Use techniques such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory to identify patterns and themes in the data.

  • Prepare a report summarizing the findings of the focus group and provide recommendations based on the research objectives.

Follow these steps to conduct a successful focus group, uncover valuable insights, and achieve your research objectives.

Five sample focus group questions

Here are some sample focus group questions that you could use in different research contexts avoiding leading questions and emphasizing open-ended questions:

1. Exploring a new product or service:

  • What are your first impressions of this product/service?

  • What do you like/dislike about the product/service?

  • How does this product/service compare to similar products/services?

  • What improvements could we make to the product/service?

2. Understanding consumer behavior:

  • What factors influence your decision to purchase a product/service?

  • How do you typically research products/services before making a purchase?

  • How do you feel about the pricing of products/services?

  • How do you use technology when shopping for products/services?

3. Evaluating the effectiveness of a program or intervention:

  • What do you think are the strengths of the program/intervention?

  • What challenges have you faced in participating in the program/intervention?

  • How has the program/intervention impacted your life?

  • What changes would you recommend to improve the program/intervention?

4. Developing marketing strategies:

  • What messages do you think would resonate with your target audience?

  • What channels do you think are most effective for reaching your target audience?

  • What motivates your target audience to make a purchase?

  • How do you think your target audience perceives your brand?

5. Exploring social issues:

  • What are your attitudes toward [topic]?

  • How has [topic] impacted your life or those you know?

  • What are some potential solutions to address [topic]?

  • What are some barriers to addressing [topic]?

These are just a few examples of questions that you could use in focus groups. Carefully design questions relevant to the research objectives that elicit meaningful participant insights.

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