Focus groups can be a valuable marketing resource, allowing companies to know how consumers perceive their product. Generally, an interviewer poses questions to groups of about six to 12 people. When the dialog starts, marketing and research teams can gather valuable information and deeper insights that they might not be able to get from a questionnaire. For example, if the communication gap between the target audience and upper management is large, focus groups can help upper management understand the different perspective of the target audience. The dynamic nature of open-ended questions can lead to insights unique to the focus group process. Ideally, focus groups last about 1 ½ to two hours, and group members will answer five or six questions during that time. Focus groups are usually observed by a two-way mirror and are videotaped.
In two-way focus groups, one group watches another group answer the focus group questions. By hearing what another group thinks, this opens up more discussions and may lead the second group to different conclusions than those it may have reached without hearing another group's opinions.
In dual-moderator focus groups, two moderators are used: One moderator ensures the smooth progression of the session, while the other moderator makes sure that all topics are covered. Discussions with only one moderator can sometimes veer away from the main point; two moderators can ensure a more productive session.
Dueling-moderator focus groups use two moderators playing devil’s advocate with each other. Because one purpose of focus groups is to shed light on new ways of thinking, a contrary viewpoint added to the mix often facilitates new ideas.
Client-participant focus groups involve the client who ordered the focus group sitting in on the focus group, either in secret or openly. This gives clients more control over the discussion: If there are specific areas the client wants covered, for example, he can lead the discussion where he wants it to go.
In a respondent-moderator focus group, one (or more) of the participants takes on the temporary role of moderator. The person asking the questions often influences participants' answers; therefore, when different people take on the moderator role, this increases the chances for varied, more honest responses.
A regular-size focus group has eight to 12 participants, while a mini focus group uses four or five members. Depending on the client and subject matter, a more intimate approach may be called for.
Focus groups can meet though teleconferencing if it's geographically restrictive to gather all the participants together in one room. While this type of focus group may not be as effective as meeting in person (participants won't be able to read others' body language), teleconferencing may still suffice in certain situations. For example, if the focus group has come about because of a company conflict, and the focus group members simply want to feel heard by upper management, then a teleconference can offer that opportunity.
In online focus groups, all participating members are able to share information and responses via their computer screens. People participating in these groups can be divided into three groups: moderator, participant and observer. Online focus groups work as if there's a two-way mirror in the room: Observers can conduct special “back room” chat sessions to which only the moderator or the other observers have access.