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The Importance of Focus Groups for Insight Research

The Importance of Focus Groups for Insight Research

Data is used to tell the story. Our job as researchers is to investigate this narrative on behalf of stakeholders. Checking consumer preference on observable physical characteristics, for example, can be as easy as asking, "Do you prefer the green or the blue?"

‘On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to choose this packaging from a store shelf?'

This type of study is ideal for getting a fast picture of consumer preferences and behaviour.

However, once we dig a little deeper, there is a narrative and a journey behind these decisions that we don't see unless we dig a little deeper. The researcher will determine whether a consumer is gained or lost by knowing this journey. As a result, in-depth market analysis goes beyond testing to find articulate data - information that not only accurately reflects the customer's voice in conversation with the product, idea, or stakeholder, but also elucidates "why" customers act in such ways.

The Value of Focus Groups

A primary objective and value of focus groups is the creation of unexpected ideas and interpretation. When a researcher, as a moderator, is able to build and curate a truly communal environment within a focus group, we can perceive aspects of participant behaviour that we wouldn't usually be able to see. The moderator manages the combination of more and less dominant characters during participant interaction, but it is the interaction between participants debating ideas and items that will offer the most insight.

A focus group, according to Kitzinger (1995), "capitalises on contact between research participants in order to produce data." Although this can also be done using resources like online forums, focus groups provide a more comprehensive data collection by capturing tone and physical reaction. Instead of being a by-product of the focus group approach, group interaction and the collection of nonverbal data are an integral part of it. Natural reactions to concepts are the most truthful, and therefore the most informative, when looking for expressive data. A researcher can then produce organic outputs through successful moderation.

In a way that a researcher cannot, group members can communicate with one another about the subject matter. Participants in a properly curated environment will joke around, exchange memories, share surprising encounters – and even argue; all of these natural interactions provide insight into how concepts and product ideas work in a group setting, and enable the researcher to operationalize consensus and dissent to produce useful organic data.

Of course, the focus group method has its weaknesses and disadvantages. A focus group, for example, is not an appropriate vehicle for thoroughly delving into topics to the same degree as an in-depth interview because sessions are time-limited and shared among multiple participants.

Second, there is always the possibility of participants completely sharing data (e.g., personal activities that they would rather not address in front of a group), which means that focus groups may not be the most productive vehicle for issues like personal hygiene or moral decision-making. However, if the moderator or a relatively uninhibited group member broaches the subject and sets a standard of open debate, an efficiently moderated group may also encourage discussion of ‘personal' or ethical topics.

This leads to another important consideration: group management. A poorly moderated focus group, particularly one that is overly dependent on rigid scripting, does not encourage open interaction among participants, and thus does not yield the valuable organic data and insight that we seek.

Focus Groups as Part of a Research Toolkit

As previously mentioned the effective research journey; in this journey, organic data is created using tools such as focus groups. These tools give customers a voice and add value by allowing them to engage in a collaborative environment.

Focus groups are often used to confirm research results, but they may also be useful (if not more so) earlier in the research process.

I began by discussing the backstory and journey that led to consumer desires and behaviour. We only see a snapshot of a customer's storey while performing a survey, poll, or even a qualitative approach like a question board. We may, however, ask customers questions that have been developed and briefed by other consumers if a researcher is willing to use a focus group to inform the design of other research materials.

For instance, a stakeholder may be looking into the following main metrics about a product:

·         What is the most popular way for customers to use this product?

·         In what situations will they choose this product over a similar one?

·         What would be a catchy tagline to entice future customers?

A popular approach is for a stakeholder to make assumptions about consumer behaviour and then ‘test' these assumptions to see if they are correct; however, this approach risks ignoring important consumer behaviours and insights. In this situation, the importance of a focus group is the production of insights to evaluate in a survey, for example.

A focus group can be structured to elicit responses to questions by ensuring a representative sample. A survey, for example, may be structured as a skeleton, with response choices filled with data from focus groups. Using the product as an example, a portion of the focus group might ask, "How do you typically use our product?" This topic is then addressed in a casual and conversational manner, resulting in organic data on how a commodity is (and is not) used in general. These applications are then incorporated into the survey design and reviewed with a larger group of people. Ideas for a product's informative and appealing tagline can be created within the first few minutes.

These applications are then incorporated into the survey design and reviewed with a larger group of people. Ideas for a product's informative and attractive tagline can be developed in a focus group and then evaluated in a survey, informing branding of consumer-generated ideas for consumer-generated ideas.

Generating Expressive Data

Focus groups are a convenient, low-cost, and efficient solution for us to explore the full storey of our data and show the consumer's voice in conversation with the product. Our research findings can be as organic and real as possible while also incorporating bulk testing of consumer behaviour by engaging with the consumer's voice as part of the research design process.

This leads to deeper, more in-depth emotional and intuitive experiences. We can offer stakeholders significant and actionable data by putting customers in contact with both the subject and each other. Rather than being lost in the shallower bulk data that supports theories or checks trend behaviour, stakeholders can now access in-depth consumer insights that can question product developers' and marketing staff's assumptions. During focus groups, a stakeholder I'm working with has often found new applications or usage obstacles for their goods that they hadn't considered previously. 

A focus group will help us understand why a participant makes a decision, which goes beyond a straightforward interpretation of the decision itself; we gain a deeper understanding of how a product or idea actually blends into participants' lives and perceptions, which is a valuable source of insight for decision-making. These experiences can then be put into action based on a deeper understanding of consumers as individuals, resulting in increased customer-brand interaction. When a product or idea can be shown to have been created with a true understanding of the target audience, it is inherently more desirable to the consumer and creates greater brand loyalty.

The more personal and emotional datasets created by actually talking to consumers about the product (rather than merely testing factory-made hypotheses) are of ever-increasing importance as customer experience increasingly competes with price and product as the main brand differentiation metric.

A poorly run focus group can be nearly useless; if a discussion is dominated by certain voices or excessively scripted, there would be no organic data generation. When led by an expert moderator, however, a focus group may play a unique role in the generation of articulate data that expresses the consumer's voice in interaction with a product or idea.