What are focus groups used for?

Focus groups are an effective method of research for gathering in-depth, qualitative information relevant to research goals. Focus groups are particularly useful in extracting emotional drivers and for understanding the ‘why’ behind the decisions and preferences of an audience, as opposed to quantitative research, which helps us capture the ‘what’ (needs) and ‘how’ (behavior).

They also offer marketers a way to hear their target audiences firsthand, providing an opportunity to observe participants behind a two-way mirror or by watching video recordings.


Focus groups deal with fewer participants, but extract more detailed knowledge than online surveys

Often dealing with sample sizes much smaller than those of online surveys or telephone interviews, focus groups tend to extend to greater lengths and offer deeper insights. For this reason, they are particularly useful when an audience is either difficult to reach or small in total population. They often range from 1.5 to 2 hours, and allow for more fluidity in discussion, whereas online surveys are shorter in length and rigid in structure.

The presence of a moderator enables greater probing of participants with follow-up questions to develop a richer understanding of the audience, with questions such as “Why do you feel that way?”, “Where do you go to accomplish that?” and so on. These probing questions can lead to insightful and actionable ‘nuggets’ of information that may go beyond the stated research objectives.

benefits of focus groups


Focus groups are an effective method of exploratory research and for testing ideas

When businesses attempt to answer a business question of which they have little prior knowledge, or are unsure how an audience may behave, focus groups can allow for exploratory research to help fill in the blanks. Exploratory research provides an effective method of generating an array of hypotheses. These findings can either be used to inform a business on the strongest possible answers to these questions, or act as a stepping stone to further validate those hypotheses through quantitative research with a larger sample size.

Focus groups are also effective means of testing various stimuli, such as food and drink, concept descriptions, physical media, packaging, and advertisements. The openness of focus groups allows for greater extraction of meaningful feedback to these ideas, useful for further refinement or selection and rejection of stimuli.


Focus groups promote collaborative discussion

Focus groups consist of multiple participants led by a moderator, and thus promote collaboration and interaction that is not possible through online surveys or even one-on-one interviews. Moderators follow pre-established guidelines to keep discussion relevant to the core topics at hand but allow space for interaction between the participants. This interaction fuels discussion and encourages participants to extract insights from one another through collaborative thought.

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