When it comes to launching new products, businesses cannot afford to take too many risks. A new product represents hundreds of man hours of research and development, and enormous amounts of money spent on production and materials. That kind of investment can’t be wasted on a gamble. And launching a product without proper market testing – like focus groups – is exactly that.
Customer feedback can offer invaluable suggestions on how to tweak a product. But how can you get that kind of information if the product hasn’t been released yet? That’s a problem focus groups are meant to solve. Ideally, a focus group is composed of people from within your target demographic—be they housewives, athletes, or yuppies.
Upon being introduced to your product, this group will give real, ground-level opinions and feedback. If you’ve chosen your group correctly, their opinions will be invaluable in determining the next steps. Does your product need to go back to the drawing board? Does the packaging need to be tweaked for a better customer experience? Is the product ready to roll out as it is? These testers represent your ideal customers, and will give some insight into how your product will be received once it goes to market.
Focus groups can also be used to help generate and evaluate new ideas, such as product names, mascots, and industry issues that are relevant to the business. Participants discuss ideas amongst themselves and share them with the moderator, who keeps the discussion on track and records the results.
Free-flowing, but Moderated
It is important that every focus group have a trained, effective moderator to manage the discussion. Part of the moderator’s job would be to ensure that every member of the group is able to voice their opinion, so that the discussion is not dominated by a strong-willed individual. A moderator also needs to help keep the discussion on track. While the conversation of the participants is free flowing, the moderator should have a list of topics or questions that should be addressed before the session closes.
Moderator impartiality is of the utmost importance. A moderator should not be intimidated or affected by any of the participants in the room. A moderator should not discount the opinion of a participant because of personal prejudices or feelings, and vice versa. When summarizing the session, the moderator should provide a complete and unbiased account of the events and separate his/her opinions from those of the participants. A video recording of each focus group session is good supplementary material for the moderator, as it will give marketers a first-hand account of the session.
One Tool Among Many
A focus group can be a very effective marketing and research tool, but it should not be the only one marketers employ. Like all tools, it does have its limitations and disadvantages. Focus groups should be used in conjunction with other market testing/research tools such as surveys, beta testers, and the like. The results of each should be compared with each other to find a common thread that marketers can act on.
Have you ever used or participated in a focus group before? What was your experience like? Share it in the comments below!