The most widely used qualitative tool is the focus group. A focus group is the meeting of individuals in person or virtually who are guided through a discussion by a trained moderator. The goal of the focus group is to get beyond superficial answers and uncover insights on consumer attitudes and behavior.
Participants are carefully screened and recruited to ensure that they are part of the relevant target market. There are usually six to ten members in the group, and the session usually lasts for one to two hours. A moderator guides the group through a discussion that probes attitudes about a client’s products or services. The discussion is loosely structured, and the moderator encourages the free flow of ideas.
Focus groups are held in person or on Zoom. However, focus groups can be conducted in more relaxed settings relevant to the topic at hand, such as a living/family room, or a bar/entertaining room and so on. These types of focus group facilities provide an atmosphere that puts the respondent at ease and encourages open and honest communication. If participating in a virtual focus group, you should be sitting in a nice, quite place where you won't be interrupted. Representatives from client companies observe the discussion behind a one-way mirror. Usually, a video camera records the meeting so that it can be seen by others who were not able to travel to the facility.
Researchers examine more than the spoken words. They also try to interpret facial expressions, body language, and group dynamics. Moderators may use straight questioning or various projective techniques, including fixed or free association, story-telling and role-playing. Focus groups are often used to garner reaction to specific stimuli such as concepts, prototypes and advertising.
Focus groups are frequently used because they foster valuable group dynamics that can be observed live by clients and because they are cost-effective. However, it is important to determine if and when the focus group is the appropriate type of qualitative research to use. For instance, focus groups are often used during the exploratory phase of product development. This is before anything has been put into action, and a company wants initial opinions and reactions to a product prior to market launch.
Professional Respondents—also known as “cheater/repeaters” is a person who is dishonest during the respondent recruiting process and whose intensions are not for marketing research, but to benefit from the monetary gifts given to respondents. Focus groups are compromised when unqualified respondents participate in focus groups and yield poor or incorrect results. Reputable focus group facilities have safeguards in place to minimize or eliminate most professional respondents from ever being included in a focus group.
There are approximately 750-800 focus group facilities in the U.S. Acceptance and usage has increased consistently from 110,000 focus groups in 1990 to almost double that number in 2002 of 218,000 sessions. That is a spending level of approximately $7 billion on focus group testing.
In 2002 there was an estimated 245,000 focus groups and equivalent in-depth interviewing sessions conducted throughout Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.
Today, roughly 70% of all consumer research dollars are earmarked for qualitative research, and it is nearly impossible to find a Fortune 500 company that does not use focus groups to develop its corporate image and/or marketing strategy.