CDS Community Development Strategies
- To start, focus group participants must be carefully screened to assure their life experiences are commensurate with the topic of discussion. Otherwise the entire exercise could be a waste of time leading to dangerously misleading conclusions.
- Secondly, the focus group questions and discussion guide must be developed with specific intent aimed at producing clear, unbiased findings relevant to the topic. If not, results may be interesting but ultimately extraneous.
- Thirdly, the moderator is key and must be adept at helping participants explore their real thoughts and feelings. If all that is needed are simple “yes” and “no” responses—stick to a survey. Focus groups are not meant for simple replies. There must be thoughtful and open discussion.
Here’s a helpful real life example. A home builder started building in a new, unfamiliar part of town. His first sales report was very disappointing, especially considering that his competitors’ sales seemed to be booming. In an attempt to understand the problem, he turned to his marketing director for insight. This marketing director suggested they get customer input. He invited several potential customers to provide feedback after viewing the model homes. A discussion guide was hastily conceived an initial series of focus groups were conducted. Participants were full of suggestions but agreed on little else than suggesting that model homes needed new furnishings. The home builder spent a considerable sum on new expensive staging furniture, but sales did not increase.
What went wrong with the first round of focus group sessions? First of all, home SHOPPERS were not the right target population. Only customers who had both shopped for AND THEN PURCHASED a home were able to provide relevant insight. Secondly, the marketing director—acting as the focus group moderator—did not have the experience required to design appropriate questions and extract meaningful feedback from the group. Instead, little was learned from the initial customer interviews and erroneous conclusions were made. While the marketing director may have saved some of the operating budget up front by not hiring a professional at the outset, it ultimately cost the home builder tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue over the long run.
Focus group research, when done well, can be some of the most valuable and insightful research conducted. Unfortunately, the real-life example just shared is repeated all too often. The proper implementation process is frequently watered down for time and/or cost savings, and the true value of focus group research is often underestimated, unappreciated, and unrealized. The take away is this: do focus groups right or do them at your own peril.
About the Author: Kent Dussair founded CDS in 1971 for the purpose of providing professional market and economic research and consulting services. With over 50 years of professional experience, Kent continues to help CDS implement and evaluate effective qualitative research.