How Focus Groups Can Help Your Business

How Focus Groups Can Help Your Business

by Ann MacDonald, December 2009

You've built a better mousetrap. The real question is, does anyone want to buy it? The best way to find out may be to hold a focus group.

What Are Focus Groups?

Focus groups are a market research tool. In a focus group, a group of people is gathered to discuss a product or service. The participants are usually shown a product or marketing materials and they are asked to voice their impressions. It is a fast and interactive way to test a segment of the market.

A focus group should be more than just a couple of people in order to get a cross-section of potential consumers and a variety of opinions. Most market researchers find that a focus group with 8 -12 participants yield useful data.

Why Are Focus Groups Important?

So, take your mousetrap. You know you have a brilliant invention and your wife and brother have assured you that it is a surefire bestseller. However, it is wise to get some impartial opinions as to the value of your product. Not only are your friends and family biased, but others within your company or industry may have specific viewpoints that are different from your average target consumer.

Some companies conduct focus groups before they develop products. They show existing products to consumers in order to learn what things people like and dislike about them. Then, they use that information to help create their product specifications.

In other instances, companies place a product prototype in front of a focus group to get people's reactions before the product is placed into production and marketed. This may be used not only to ensure consumers are receptive to the product, but also to determine ease of use and to polish the product before it is finalized. It is useful for developers to see potential customers using a product; often people will try things that were completely unanticipated by the designers. For example, the mousetrap focus group may show that the mousetrap is difficult to use or that consumers do not like to dispose of mouse carcasses. Modifying the product in response to focus group feedback can help make the product more appealing to consumers.

Focus Groups for Marketing Strategies

In addition to placing products in front of consumers, many firms use focus groups to test marketing strategies. The best product in the world may not sell well if the packaging, advertising and other marketing materials are unappealing. So, before you slap a wrapper with a photo of a decapitated mouse on your nifty new trap, you might want to have a focus group. In it, you might learn that people prefer to buy traps with no pictures that remind them of the impending carnage.

Focus groups can also be used to research things like the best price point for a product, the kind of stores where people expect to find a type of product and many other valuable pieces of information.

Focus Groups Save Money

While running a focus group costs some money during your development phases, consider it a valuable investment in your business. Often, problems identified in a focus group can prevent costly production changes or ineffective advertising and marketing strategies.

The sooner you can learn what your target market wants, the better you will be able to sell to them.