Before I started my undergraduate course in 1999, I had no idea why my school teachers would always force me into groups to discuss what we used to call “nonsense”.
Nonsense, back then, included topics such as “the preferred type of garden for the next project”, “whether girls preferred blouses and skirts for uniforms as opposed to dresses” and “why a sponsored hike was a good option for a fundraiser”.
Perhaps to us these were nonsense ideas because they were not initiated by us but imposed as topics that we were forced to discuss. An hour wasted on discussions when we could be doing Arts and Craft or playing volleyball. But we didn’t know any better because no one explained to us the importance of conducting such discussions.
Since entering the worlds of communications and marketing, I have found the true name for what the teachers were doing. They were facilitating focus groups to discuss an idea.
Simple, right? You’d think they would have told us that!
The real deal – learning about focus groups
When all grown up and all (an undergraduate course at university does that to you), most units that I took as an undergraduate involved focus group sessions. Participants’ responses were not the Yes/No answers. The tutor or a student would facilitate and ask us open-ended questions.
This helped and encouraged us to expand on our thoughts about the idea, product or service. From our recorded answers, the tutor gained a better understanding of each attitude and behaviour toward the idea, product or service.
I then understood that a focus group is one of the preferred research methods conducted before switching an idea into first gear. It’s usually in the preparation phase where you explore the idea with a group of people who represent the target group that the product or service is designed for.
A focus group for research?
When I took marketing research studies as a postgraduate, focus groups were explored further. For example, we then introduced words like qualitative research (research methods where you are looking at descriptions, opinions and interpretations rather than analysing numbers) and got the opportunity to conduct and analyse our own focus groups.
They were now a stage within a much bigger task given to us: to conduct real research!
We were taught to also focus on the participants’ physical ‘expressions’ and not just their verbal responses: pay attention to the facial expressions, body language and how they interact with others in the group.
At the end of the course, the conclusion was that focus groups are not the only method to use but that it’s almost unheard of to not conduct them when developing marketing strategies, products, services and the brand itself.
Have you ever used focus groups? Have you been picked for a product study?
Image by Dennis Crowley