How to Conduct Market Research Through Focus Groups

Learning how to conduct market research can help you grow your business. Here's what you need to know about focus groups.

If you’re wondering how to conduct market research to get the insights you need to grow your business, focus groups are an important and often overlooked option. Focus groups provide the chance to dig deep and gain one-on-one insights from your customers on product development, marketing and customer service.

Here’s a quick overview to help you host your first focus group:

First Ask: What Do You Want to Know?

The most vital question concerns your purpose in conducting the group. If you start out with broad or poorly defined questions, you aren’t going to get useful answers. The best focus groups are the ones that deal with a targeted, specific aspect of your business. Would your customers pay for a new product you are developing, for example, and how much would they spend?

Coming up with a specific question will also help you figure out exactly which people to invite to your group. You might want to find out if a new product idea plays well with your existing target market — in that case, you’ll be able to recruit right from your customer pool. Or, you may want to find out if a proposed marketing campaign resonates with a new target you’re trying to win over to your business — that means you’ll have to seek out the specific demographics you have in mind. The bottom line: Keep the main focus clear and succinct, and other decisions will be much easier.

Find Your Sample Group

Advertise your focus group on social media, community bulletin boards and local advertisements. You might also go through local professional groups — community business groups might be able to help, for example. Offer incentives and make the event as convenient as possible for the group you’re trying to attract. College students might show up for a free meal and $20 on a Friday at noon, for instance; working professionals might be interested in $100 for an hour-long session during a weeknight.

You might also consider doing a remote focus group, if possible. When your target audience has a hectic schedule — working parents of young children, for example — and your topic can be discussed remotely, you might easily schedule a group video call. Using the existing video conference setup in your office can work as well for a focus group as it does for client calls. Just make sure you can record the meeting for later review.

Find a Moderator

You very likely have a personal stake in the group’s responses — if you try to moderate your own group, they will probably pick up on those feelings, and that may make them less-than-honest in their discussion. Find a professional moderator online, or ask around among peers and colleagues for marketing contacts who have experience in this area.

The moderator should be someone with the confidence to help your group feel at ease sharing their opinions. Professional moderators should work with you to come up with the questions you want to ask, and will be able to make thoughtful follow-up inquiries when your group participants state their opinions. Be sure you emphasize what you want to get out of the event so the moderator knows which types of follow-up questions to ask.

Record the Discussion and Analyze Results

Parse the opinions that surfaced during the talk, and write a summary of the responses you’ve heard. What surprised you? What conclusions can you draw? Make sure you share the recording with business partners or employees to discuss them — remember, you have a personal stake in the results and might be hearing only what you want to hear. Always get multiple opinions.

From there, you can discuss your conclusions and figure out a path forward. You might have some clarity on which parts of a marketing plan need to be tweaked, for instance, or whether your product idea needs major changes.

Running a focus group takes time and requires help. But there is no substitute for having an in-depth conversation with would-be customers.