Focus groups are fun. Focus groups are easy to pull together quickly. And who can deny the reality of a real live consumer talking about your company?
Unfortunately, focus groups are probably the most frequently misused research technique out there.
You can’t use focus groups to measure anything. The “sample” in a focus group (or groups) is not projectable. Any ratings, polls, or sentiments that you measure in a focus group are the opinions of the 8 to 10 people that were in the room. Period.
Since you can”t reliably measure anything in a focus group, they are the wrong research method to use when making go/no-go decisions or selecting from alternatives. Nevertheless, focus groups tend to be the preferred research method for agencies everywhere when evaluating creative execution for advertising. I think they (and many other marketers) default to focus groups because they’re fast, easy, have the perk (for some anyway) of creating a road trip, and have a lot of face validity because words are coming directly from the mouths of consumers.
But focus groups just don’t work very well for the task they are being asked to perform.
So what are focus groups good for?
Focus groups are great for developing an understanding of why.
Why do people do what they do? Why do people respond better to ad ”a” than ad ”b”? Why do they feel so attached to this brand? They’re also very useful to explore the range of attitudes toward a subject or product – and to understand the language used by the consumer when talking about something.
Returning to our ad testing example, the best use of focus groups in this area would be to help the creative team “get inside the head” of the target market – before they develop creative. A few groups could deliver a treasure trove of insight into motivation and vernacular that can connect with the market.
If the team wants to test the different versions created, a quantitative survey should be used.
So, the next time someone suggests doing some focus groups, ask yourself a few questions.
Am I trying to understand..
…how many people might buy my product?
…which alternative is liked best?
…whether its a good idea to launch the new product?
…who the best prospects for my product are?
If you answered ”yes” to any of these questions, ask one of your own – “Shouldn’t we be doing a quantitative survey?”