Are Focus Groups Effective?

 Lisa Steyn

 Marketing Manager, Way With Words



Recently within our business we have been focusing a lot on marketing research. In my quest for more information I have come across a number of debates regarding the effectiveness of focus groups. There are two schools of thought – predominantly companies doubt the effectiveness of these groups due to the group psyche that comes out quite strongly with people feeding off each other. Whilst I get this point, having attended many interesting focus groups with interesting people, I am still a firm believer in this form of research.

Make no doubt, focus groups can go horribly wrong, and the results can be skewed as well as invalid. However, in my humble opinion, there are often very good reasons that focus groups go wrong.

I’ve listed below my top 10 reasons why I think they go wrong…I would love to hear your opinions both for and against the debate…


  • The brief is unclear…there is no focus or measurable objectives for the research


  • Questionnaire – make sure that the questions are right for the project. There should be open ended questions then more closed questions to clarify points.


  • The moderator is not right for the activity – moderators are absolutely critical in getting the most out of your groups. I’ve attended some fantastic focus groups with exceptional moderators who effectively manage their groups and bring them back to the key points. I’ve also been to some not so great groups, where a moderator has no control over the group and they run riot!


  • Recruitment – make sure the respondents are properly qualified to set criteria.


  • Target audience – make sure you are speaking to the right audience in focus groups and have them properly qualified. If necessary segment your audience and have a number of groups for each audience.


  • Too many requirements – when a client wants to learn everything about their product/service/brand in a focus group. Asking too much for a one hour session can kill it.


  • Doing too few or too many focus groups – there should be a statistically significant amount of focus groups in relation to the size of the research project. You aren’t going to get much out of two one hour focus groups and might be lead up the garden path with 20 groups!


  • The focus group is to prove a theory and that’s it – I saw a brilliant cartoon where the MD is saying “I don’t care what the focus groups say; we are still implementing that campaign”. I’ve come across a couple of those too!


  • The debrief and analysis stage is not fast enough – the focus groups have happened a couple of weeks before, the clients have reached their own conclusions and nothing is going to sway them. Make sure the debrief and analysis is delivered soon after the research has taken place. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to get your audio files transcribed quickly and accurately so research agencies can present findings fast! Often observers hear what they want to hear or jump to their own conclusions. A transcription can be referred to quickly and easily.


  • The moderator needs to remain objective – you don’t want a wilting flower delivering results that they know the client wants to hear. They need to objectively deliver the message.


These are my thoughts on why things can go wrong, I would love to hear your thoughts.

To end off, I found a really funny video sketch of how a focus group can go wrong…hope you enjoy!




5 thoughts on “Focus Groups Go Horribly Wrong!”

  1. True, had a set of interviews that simply ended in disaster because of poor moderations. Ther eis a need to be sure that even the simplest steps are set out in instruction to save on time and cost!

  2. It’s pretty value enough for me. Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made excellent content material as you probably did, the net will likely be much more helpful than ever before.

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