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    How to Conduct a Focus Group to Assess a Product or Idea


    “Research is creating new knowledge.” – Neil Armstrong

    A focus group might be the perfect option if you’re looking for a way to dig deeper to assess how a product or idea will do in the marketplace. This method allows you to gather feedback from potential customers directly and gain a better understanding of what they want and need. This blog discusses how to plan, set up, and conduct a focus group. Let’s get started!

    What is a marketing focus group?

    A focus group is a research method composed of a group of six to twelve carefully selected respondents who share similar characteristics, tastes, or common interests.

    The main purpose of focus group research is to draw upon opinions, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences, and reactions to consumer marketing campaigns, product introductions, or other proposals to a small representation of the intended target market.

    A moderator is chosen to guide the group through a set of planned discussion questions on a predetermined marketing topic. The role of the moderator is to create an environment that encourages participants to share their perceptions and viewpoints regarding the subject.

    Focus groups allow marketers to approach potential consumers in a way that would not be possible using standard market research methods.

    When is focus group research beneficial?

    Focus groups are helpful for understanding an issue at a deeper level than survey research can provide. Further, they help clarify existing knowledge by answering the questions “why” and “how” as it pertains to the topic being studied.

    For example, a focus group is an excellent way to follow up on a survey that has uncovered data or insights that requires closer investigation.

    Focus groups are particularly effective in gathering qualitative information, such as feelings, perceptions, tastes, or attitudes about a product or marketing advertisement.

    Steps to Setting Up & Running The Focus Group

    Know the topic of Interest

    A preliminary survey (research) helps establish the topic that requires further investigation. It is essential to be aware of what you “already know” and what you “want to know”.

    Focus group research is more meaningful when the topic under study is specific.

    Once you have a clear main subject under investigation, further divide it into sub-topics to help develop your focus group questions. For example, if the main topic is toothpaste, sub-topics might include toothpaste flavor, package design, texture, etc.

    Develop discussion questions

    There are three types of focus group questions:

    1. Engagement questions: use these questions to introduce a topic of discussion. Example questions:
    • What is your favorite toothpaste?;
    • What do you notice when you look at other people’s teeth?
    1. Exploration questions: these questions should be designed to elicit conversation, feeling, attitudes, perceptions, or opinions about the topic. Examples:
    • Who in particular has influenced your dental habits?
    • What are the pros and cons of flossing your teeth?
    • When you floss, how do you follow through?
    • When you don’t, why not?
    • How do you feel when told about possible damage caused by not flossing?
    • How do you feel about yourself when you floss regularly?
    • When you don’t?
    1. Exit question: Use these questions to check if anything was missed during the discussion and then move on to the next subject.
    • Is there anything else to add to “why you do or do not floss your teeth regularly?” Okay, next question.
    • Are there any further comments? Okay, next question.

    Discussion questions are typically open-ended questions aimed at setting the tone for the focus group. They will gauge group members’ interest levels and ideas about the product, as well as assess the tone for a robust group discussion.

    Create Focus Group Agenda

    Once you have prepared the discussion questions, decide what order to ask them in. A logical approach is to sequence them by order of priority. Or, order them in a way that will help facilitate robust discussion. Some questions will take longer than other to properly assess.

    “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.” – David Ogilvy

     A basic agenda outline might use these subheadings:

      1. Welcome participants (1 min)
      2. Group self-introductions (2 min)
      3. A brief explanation of the rules (5 min)
      4. Facilitate question & answer Session (60 min) (this should be broken down further by topic and question)
      5. Conclude and thank participants (2 min)

    The purpose of the agenda is to keep the focus group meeting organized and within the allotted time frame. Each discussion question should be allocated a set amount of time for response.

    An agenda is an excellent tool for keeping the group on topic and budgeting time; be sure to refer to it.

    Note: A typical focus group is between 60-90 minutes.

    Recommended reading: Creating an Effective Staff Meeting Agenda

    Select a moderator and notetaker

    The Moderator

    The moderator is responsible for conducting the group discussion. They ensure the smooth running of the discussion, manage the group dynamics, and ensure that the focus group objectives are met. Examples of the general duties undertaken by the moderator include:

    • Posing the discussion questions to the group
    • Encouraging participants to speak freely and participate
    • Ensuring that nobody dominates the conversation
    • Managing and budget discussion time
    • Defining and enforcing the group boundaries and rules
    • Acting as the chairperson for the meeting
    • Ensuring participates do not feel like they are being judged

    Note: The moderator should be someone who has no bias regarding the outcome of the focus group. Also, the moderator is there to stimulate conversation but not influence the comments made by the group members.

    The Notetaker

    The notetaker is responsible for documenting key comments from the focus group participants. These notes will be used to assess the focus group discussion results. This individual should sit in the same room as the focus group but not amongst the group members.

    Note: It is good practice to do an audio or video recording of the focus group. A permanent record can be reviewed several times to ensure all of the important information has been assessed.

    Recruitment of Focus Group Participants

    Recruiting for participants is a critical part of focus group research. Recruitment ads should include the purpose and details of the focus group, the date, time, duration, and location. In some cases, it may be necessary to offer incentives such as product samples, gift certificates, or small cash payments for participating in the focus.

    Ideas for recruiting participants for a focus group research study. The internet provides several options(Maze.com):
    1. Know your target audience and their demographics.
    2. Leverage your personal network.
    3. Reach out via online communities.
    4. Find focus group participants over social media.
    5. Elicit internal feedback from team members.
    6. Build up a pool of enthusiastic would be customers.
    7. Conduct guerilla testing or pre-interviews 

    Recommended reading: Optimizing social media: Connecting Platform to Audience

    Provide consent forms to participants

    Consent forms explain what the study is about, the possible risks and benefits, and the research participant’s rights. In addition, the letter reminds the participant that the contents of the focus group are to be kept private by both parties.

    This means participants should not mention what was discussed during the focus group. In the same vein, the researchers will protect the participants’ privacy by not sharing the results with anyone outside the research group or business team.

    Lastly, two copies of the consent form should be signed by the participants and a senior research team member.

    One copy should remain with each participant, and a copy from each member should be signed and returned to the research team.

    Tips for Reviewing & Analyzing the Focus Group Discussion

      1. Transcribe your focus group recordings.
      2. Identify major themes and organize the data.
      3. Interpret the themes and ideas in context.


    1. Type of analysis or organization of the information will be specific to the product or idea under consideration. A good rule of thumb is to identify as many opinions, perceptions, suggestions and attitudes regarding each product. For example:

    • “After using toothpaste XYZ, I found that it left an aftertaste in my mouth”
    • “The CDF dental floss didn’t come out of the package cleanly”
    • “I found that toothbrush ABC was good on my gums”
    •  “I found that the mouth wash tasted harsh, but it keeps your mouth feeling fresh”
    • “The toothbrush package is very unspectacular, I don’t think I would even notice it on the shelf.”


    A focus group might be the perfect option if you’re looking for a way to assess how a product or idea will do in the marketplace. This method allows you to gather feedback from potential customers directly and gain a better understanding of what they want and need. Following the tips we’ve outlined in this blog post, you can set up your focus group quickly and easily. And if you have any questions along the way, our team is here to help. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!

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