When you hear the term "lifecycle" you probably immediately jump back to your memories from your marketing class in college. It's the common principle which attempts to define the lifespan of every product. It claims every product moves through a 4-phase journey from introduction, growth, maturity, and decline as seen below.
Forever ingrained into 20-year-old marketing students' minds
The flow of a focus group can follow a similar path. Most who are at least somewhat familiar with focus groups know it's a set of 4 to 12 people who get together and talk about specific topics guided by a moderator. Or if they are fans of Domino's they may think the walls will fall down behind them to find out the facility is in the middle of farmland. They likely don't understand the nuisances, thoughts, and structure which goes into preparing, planning, and designing a moderator's guide for discussion.
For anyone who's prepared a recruitment screener, built a focus group guide, or moderated focus groups, they know it is not something you can just wing. The best focus groups follow a very specific flow and lifecycle to ensure the feedback you receive meets the objectives of the research. Without this lifecycle and flow, you run the risk of running a sub-par focus group or limiting your research team from further insights.
What does the focus group life-cycle look like? Each 90-minute to 2-hour session typically follows this 4-step flow below. Many focus group companies have their own unique way of moderating focus groups, but Drive Research has found this lifecycle to produce the best results with participants.
Goal: To assimilate focus group participants to the setting and make them comfortable.
This 1st section is self-explanatory. Typically, during the introduction, the moderator will run through a section of the guide which explains the focus group process, the rules, and the reason for bringing the group together. The moderator will also introduce himself or herself and go around the room and ask the participants to introduce themselves as well.
As the moderator goes through the basic rules and directions, it helps to have the participant fill out a written activity or participation packet to keep them active, but also listening. As part of the round-table introductions, it's helpful to include a fun question or two like favorite TV show, hobby, or even what they plan on spending their reward on. A little humor goes a long way toward building rapport.
Here is some more information about the benefits of using participation packets in market research.
Warm-up to Topics
Goal: To transition the group to relevant discussion, which has small ties to the main objectives.
After the 10 to 15 minute warm-up, it's likely participants are still leery or skeptical about the process. This is why it helps to ease them into your main objectives rather than jumping right in. Some suggested topics for the warm-up section include word associations, general perceptions about a product, service, or brand, or awareness of advertising. These topics lead participants into a more guided discussion about the real reasons for commissioning the research.
It's kind of like cooking a steak. You can microwave it and have it ready in a shorter timeframe but it tastes a lot better if you season it, sear it, and then grill it. Focus groups are no different. It takes time to warm the participants up and get them ready to provide you with the feedback you need. You can't grill them too early. Clever right?
Peak of the Conversation
After about 30 or 45 minutes, you are ready to tackle your main objectives with your participants. The peak of the conversation should address all of your main topics of the moderator's guide. At this point, your participants are familiar with the group, have opened up, and have built rapport with the moderator.
They are more likely than ever to share those golden nuggets we all clamor for in market research. The reason to tackle these objectives now rather than later is related to fatigue. As the clock approaches finish time, participant attention spans wane.
In the final part of the focus group, you'll want to ensure you have captured your key takeaways. Did you gather feedback about the core objectives of the focus groups? Did you learn new insights you were after? A good final question in focus groups is to ask participants if they have any final thoughts or comments about the topic. As the moderator, always pop-into the back-room where the clients are viewing the focus groups to ensure you've addressed their feedback before releasing your participants.
Following the focus group lifecycle ensures you set yourself up for success as a moderator.
Although the focus group lifecycle seems rather intuitive, it's a good reminder of how focus groups should flow. This will help focus group moderators build a more robust and descriptive guide. It also ensures your participants are warmed-up and ready to roll as you enter the most important pieces of your conversation. For more information about how a focus group project works, read more here.
Drive Research is a qualitative market research firm in Upstate NY offering focus group recruitment, moderator services, analysis, and reporting. If you are interested in conducting a focus group in Upstate, NY, contact our team. We can be reached through email at [email protected] or by phone at 315.303.2040.