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Marketing Matters: The Beauty of Focus Groups

By: Alisa Marie Beyer
Posted: January 10, 2008, from the January 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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1. Timing is everything. Focus groups are most advantageous when conducted before a product or advertisement rollout. Getting consumer insights before manufacturing can save a company millions.

2. Get buy-in from all key players. Let’s face it, being on the other side of the two-way mirror can be a little painful, especially when consumers are pinpointing certain ideas derived from or contributed by specific company employees or teams. To be able to seriously consider the results of focus groups for any modifications to products or promotions, be sure to get all key players’ buy-in on the goal of the focus groups before they begin. This will save a lot of time and avoid possible conflict afterwards.

3. Plan, plan and then plan some more. The effort put into advanced planning for a group always pays out in terms of the overall quality of the output from the process. Take the time to ensure appropriate recruitment parameters for participants and develop a discussion guide that sparks debate and flow of conversation. Review the table of contents of the projected report to make sure all parties are well aware of how the results will be communicated.

4. More is not always better—or necessary. In many cases, beauty companies do more focus groups than are necessary to achieve their objectives. There is no sure way to determine the optimal number of groups in a research project, but a few rules of thumb
can help. A solid baseline project consists of two cities, with three to four focus groups conducted in each city. From this platform, assess how simple or complex the responses are and how similar or conflicting. This “basic” package fulfills most requirements.

5. Understand the role of an effective moderator. To effectively conduct a focus group, the moderator must convey the point that they are there to get the group’s honest opinions. It is essential to let participants know it is okay to have different opinions, even unpopular ones. An effective moderator must be able to draw people out in a group environment, listen well, interpret the results of the sessions and communicate those results effectively to the clients.

6. Prepare to be criticized. Hearing a consumer share her view on a product or brand image can be cringe inducing. But do not dismiss focus groups because the criticism is hard to take. Identifying what the consumer does not like can save time
and money. Be open minded and listen.

7. Don’t prejudge the participants. Comments such as “she’s not my customer” are often made in the midst of a focus group. Well, yes she is. She may not be your ideal, but most likely, she has been identified during the prescreening process as someone who buys the beauty products being tested. The appearance of the people in the groups generally has little relationship to how effective they can be as participants. Clearly, it is easier to conduct and watch focus groups comprised of attractive, articulate, educated people. But it is vital to realize that these characteristics are not necessarily critical to gathering useful information, nor are they indicative of whether or not a particular person is a customer.

8. All comments are not equal. Keep in mind that negative opinions should not be taken as scripture but rather as one opinion in a number of well-rounded insights. Your moderator should be eliciting responses as to what is working about the current product or idea and how it might be changed. By understanding the full benefits of focus groups and putting them to use, beauty companies will position themselves to get the maximum out of research.