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Focus Groups: Definition, Advantages & Disadvantages

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  • 0:43 Creating a Focus Group
  • 1:55 Collecting Focus Group Data
  • 2:43 Use of Focus Groups
  • 2:58 Advantages
  • 3:18 Disadvantages
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
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.

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

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