4imprint, LLC

Focus on the customer: Using focus groups to gather customer insight
As a small business, you realize the importance of research in truly understanding your customers. Their wants, needs, hopes, fears and motivations all play a role in their decision to purchase a product or service from your company. From delving into statistics to conducting first-person interviews, research options abound when trying to gather insight about your customers.One research method many businesses find successful in collecting valuable opinions from their customer base is the focus group. Focus groups are real-time studies of small groups of people, led by a moderator, used to gather information about a typical customer’s present or future actions in relation to your business’s product or service.

You might be thinking that conducting a focus group sounds great, but where do you start? How do you successfully execute a focus group to ensure the results are unbiased and usable data is collected? Read on, as we outline the basic steps to using a focus group to your business’s advantage.

Step 1: Plan
Planning for your focus group is the first step to ensuring your research will be valuable. In planning, consider the following:

  • Why you want to hold a focus group: What are the objectives? What do you want to gain additional insight about? What are the intended outcomes?
  • Who you want to study: Carefully select your target audience based on gender, age, ethnicity, interests, education, career, etc. To boost participation, offer an incentive. At the very least, most focus groups provide free beverages and a meal, but many also see increased participation by offering a cash incentive or other token of appreciation. Try a gender-neutral giveaway, like a logo’d travel tumbler, 2GB flash drive or roll-up fleece blanket.
  • What questions you want to ask: Your objectives and goals for the focus group will guide the questions you ask. Questions should not be leading and allow for group participation and discussion. When formulating your questions, you may want to bring in a marketing or research professional to assist.
  • Who will facilitate the group: A focus group facilitator should be an individual who is trained to ask questions correctly, guide discussion, gather feedback, and make participants feel comfortable. This person may be a staff member, volunteer or hired party.
  • Where and when the focus group will be held: If holding it at a specific location outside of your business, be sure to reserve space ahead of time, arrive early for camera or voice recorder setup, and double-check any rules or regulations to using the space (i.e. “no food or drink allowed “). If catering in food for the group, don’t forget to provide vegetarian options.

Step 2: Conduct
The typical focus group is implemented in three phases:

  • Welcome and introductions: Facilitator welcomes all participants, explains the purpose of the focus group, answers any questions and begins group introductions.
  • Questions: Facilitator leads participants through pre-determined questions, ensuring all members are heard.
  • Closing: Facilitator thanks all who participated, answers any final questions and indicates when/if they will be further contacted. At this time, any promised rewards are also provided, including products imprinted with the company’s phone number or e-mail address for further information. Try something small that can be tucked into a purse, billfold or pocket, like a full-colour business card magnet or pen.

Step 3: Analyze
Finally, after the focus group is through, it’s time to analyze the raw data. You can either comb through it yourself, or hire an experienced market research agency or professional to assist. If choosing the former, consider these tips:

  • Transcribe all tapes first: Whether video recorded or voice recorded, write down all conversations verbatim. Include action notes in your transcript as well. For example, if someone appeared uncomfortable when a certain question was asked, note it.
  • Read all transcripts multiple times: Look for patterns of emotion, surprises, comments, specific words used, body language and conversation. Assess positive and negative feedback equally. Record all trends spotted.
  • Compose a report: You’ll want to share the results of your focus group and all conclusions drawn with your team and, perhaps, your customers or other interested parties. Consider holding a meeting with relevant internal staff members to walk through the focus findings and decide what the next course of action will be.

Calculating your next business move begins with conducting solid research. Focus groups may be your best bet in gathering the insight you need to make the right decisions. In just three steps, you’ll be well on your way to collecting valuable, first-person data to guide your business’s next product development, advertising campaign, service line addition or other ingenious idea. Good luck!

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