All businesses should know the importance of market research. Also, businesses should know the importance of market research executed correctly. Misleading research can be detrimental to businesses. One method of research that has found great popularity due to its apparent ease is the focus group.
The basic idea behind a focus group is rather simple. You get a group of people in a room together with a moderator who asks them questions, helps guide the discussion and keeps things in order. Researchers have come up with various creative ways to do a focus group such as asking people to fill in thought bubbles in a picture, giving participants magazines to make collages, and even role playing. While these can be fun, and even produce some creative results, businesses should be cautious to not over-substantiate their results.
The first thing to remember about focus groups is that the results obtained should not be generalized to the entire market or population. Think about it. You are really only finding the attitudes and opinions of about six or ten people. Focus groups should be used to get some insights or ideas, but to generalize your results, you need a much larger sample of people. There is a fun episode of Seinfeld where Jerry visits a new restaurant that is struggling to get new customers. He suggests to the owner that he completely abandon his restaurant idea and become a Pakistani eatery. The owner does so at great expense, and ends up going out of business. (watch a clip here) The owner put too much value in one person’s perception of what to do with the business and ended up bankrupt. One person’s idea can make a positive difference, but businesses should take an extra step and conduct further research before going all in.
Some people fail to understand the potential harm of biases creeping into research. In the case of the focus group, inexperienced business owners may attempt to act as the moderator themselves or hire family, friends, or only good customers to be the research subjects. Ego cannot exist when conducting research. Inexperienced researchers may ask leading questions or refuse people whose opinions differ from theirs.
Focus groups usually fail to generate deep, heart-felt insights. Customer’s decision making process tends to be personal and not often shared fully with others. This makes it especially difficult to glean these insights from a group of people where everyone is listening so results taken from these meetings tend to be shallow.
Only certain kinds of people can really participate in focus groups. Those who have difficulty expressing themselves, or tend to be introverted will not be able to give great feedback. The kind of people capable and willing to take part in a focus group are a poor representation of the market.
Many other issues exist that can hinder the effectiveness of a focus group. As with all kinds of research methods, they should not be performed casually with a large possibility of bias. In order to be effective, business owners should understand the best practices in conducting research, and act accordingly. It may even be best to just hire someone more qualified to conduct research.
Businesses need market insights to drive them. Too often, business owners will do a minimal amount of research using a simple focus group to come up with research. Companies may use biased research to justify business decisions they believe will work. Research is similar in one way to lifting weights. If you do not do it correctly, it will not benefit you and may even hurt you.