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Focus groups are used in business research all the time. In this lesson, you’ll learn about focus groups, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. You’ll also have a chance to take a short quiz after the lesson.

What Are Focus Groups?

Have you ever been asked to try out a product before it is released, so long as you give your opinion on that product? Or maybe you’ve been invited to a screening of a movie that hasn’t come out yet and asked to give your thoughts afterward? If so, you have likely participated in a focus group.A focus group is a means to collect qualitative data from the people likely to use the product. Qualitative data is descriptive in nature (such as color, size, and feeling) rather than data that can be measured and subjected to mathematical and statistical analysis. Businesses use focus groups to learn about people’s perception about an area or areas of interest.

It is often used in marketing and product development.

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Creating a Focus Group

Focus groups can vary in size, but many experts suggest the group should optimally consist of 10 to 12 people. A typical focus group session will last between one and two hours. A facilitator poses the research questions to the group, which are often based on a prepared discussion guide. A scribe is also present and takes notes of participant responses. The session may also be electronically recorded.

The demographic composition of the focus group is very important to get a clear picture of the target market’s reaction. If your product is power tools for the construction industry, a focus group full of teenage girls will not provide useful data. Demographic characteristics considered may include age, gender, education level, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and geographic location.Focus groups can be homogeneous, where the group consists of people with the same or very similar demographic characteristics, or heterogeneous, where the group consists of people with different demographic characteristics. Current research suggests that a homogeneous group gets better results because similar people will yield a more focused result. You can have several different homogeneous focus groups, each with different demographic characteristics.

Collecting Focus Group Data

Focus group data is usually collected by coding. Coding involves transcribing all notes taken from the session and then looking for major themes. You then count the frequency of each response for each theme.For example, if you just completed a focus group on a new car model, major themes may have been gas mileage, passenger compartment size, price, and a built-in GPS and entertainment center. You may have asked each member of the group to rate the importance of each of these features as not very important, not important, neutral, important, and very important.After the session is concluded, you organize all of the responses and count the type of responses.

For example, two people may have been neutral on gas mileage, four people may have considered it important, and two people may have considered it very important.

Uses of Focus Groups

Focus groups can be used for many different purposes. Some of these purposes include:

  • Product research and development
  • Marketing and advertising research
  • Organizational studies, such as researching employee satisfaction
  • Customer satisfaction studies

Advantages of Focus Groups

Focus groups provide some distinct advantages to businesses and researchers. Focus groups can give you both a broad and in-depth overview of reactions to the product, services, or organizational issues being researched. Focus group design is very flexible. It can be used as a stand-alone research technique or as part of a larger research study.

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

Focus groups are not without some disadvantages. Responses are subjective in nature. For example, the difference between important and very important varies between people. A facilitator may introduce experimenter bias, unconsciously tainting the results by directly seeking responses rather than teasing them out or failing to ensure all participants actually participate.There is also a danger of group think, where members tend to gravitate towards consistent opinions to create or maintain group harmony. The setting of a focus group can create validity problems. For example, participants may just want to try to please the researcher and tell him what they think he wants to hear, such as the product is great.

A related problem is the lack of anonymity, which may deter honest responses.

Lesson Summary

Focus groups are used by researchers to collect qualitative data involving a broad range of issues relevant to businesses. A focus group consists of a group of people who participate in discussions led by a facilitator and recorded by a scribe. Focus groups may be either demographically homogeneous or heterogeneous.

After the session is over, the researchers will review the data and code the responses for common themes and responses to the themes. One advantage of focus groups is the ability to obtain broad and detailed qualitative data. It is also a flexible research methodology, which can be used alone or as part of a larger research design.

Disadvantages include the subjective nature of qualitative data, and risks of experimenter bias and group think. Additionally, the setting of the focus group can create validity problems, as well as the lack of participant anonymity.

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