Focus groups are timed discussions involving a group of people who answer questions around either a brand or a product. A little like group therapy, they reach the places questionnaires simply can’t go and uncover how people actually feel about something and, perhaps more crucially, why they do. Whether you’re gearing up for the launch of your new lighting business and want to spotlight your brand proposition or perhaps need to stir up some thoughts on your latest recipe ideas, here’s all you need to know to run your own one.

Who’s in?

Usually you want to gather people who have similarities and an interest in the area of discussion, for example similar age and/or income. To know the After all, you don’t want this to happen. If you have too diverse of a group, some of the may end up holding back thoughts for fear of reprisal, or over exaggerating others.

Use your existing network to promote the focus group by asking acquaintances, neighbors, ex-colleagues to take part. Specifically who you ask depends on what type of responses you’re after, for example if you want answers from your existing target market, the group should reflect this. Equally if you want to know whether your product would work with a younger audience, then it’s important to get them around the table.

We all know that time is money so do offer a form of remuneration for their time and include this when promoting the session. If cash is tight, can you offer a cash incentive or perhaps offer the group free products or store credit with your business?


The venue’s a fairly integral part of the whole operation. Try not to use spaces that are too big, you want the environment to be welcoming, cosy and easy to get to. You’ll be recording the session so avoid places that are too noisy. It’s good practice to provide refreshments and snacks for your contributors too, but keep things light – after all, this is a discussion, not dinner.

Balance and flow

We all have that loud friend who won’t keep quiet and that quieter pal who needs a little encouragement. Your job as the group leader is to make everyone feel comfortable and manage the flow of communication to ensure everyone has an equal say. Reassure the group that their contribution is confidential helps them open up and be honest in their answers. Be prepared to hear some negative comments, these will be hard to hear especially if it’s your work under the spotlight, but usually give you the best and most actionable insights.

Ask someone you know to help you run the session too, they could help you with things like keeping to time and recording it so that you can listen again later. You can use a smartphone for this and tools like ExpressScribe are great for transcribing it all later. Discussing and making notes directly after the focus group has finished is a good way to glean information from body language, facial expressions and attitudes – particularly if you don’t have access to a video camera to record it.

What do you want to know?

This part is crucial and will form the basis of the discussion – go back to why you’d like to run the session and what you’d like to know. Start listing the questions you’d like to ask and issues you’d like to know more about like your position in the market or your pricing strategy. Make sure that you keep your questions open. That means things that people can’t answer with a simple yes or no. For example if you ask whether members like your latest idea for a new product, always follow up with asking them why – it is in these responses that you’ll get to the real detail.

Time is limited so keep things moving and allow equal time for a discussion around each topic. Good practice is around 8-10 questions for a 90 minute session. If the aim for running the focus group is to learn how people feel about your product then having prototypes and samples available will increase the quality of the responses. Being able to touch and feel (or swipe) the items in question will give people a greater understanding of them.

Don’t be tempted to share the questions with the group before the session starts, you don’t want your focus group participants to have polished answers to the questions; they need to be reactionary and honest – not rehearsed for sake of their ego.

So there you have it, we hope these focus group foundations will help you run your own session. Let us know how you go! There’s plenty more information on the subject here.

Written by David Revagliatte

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