Roberts Research

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About Focus Groups

The "Nuts & Bolts", Typical Configuration, and Variants

Key Points

Get Close to the Customer

Focus Groups are considered a Qualitative methodology although we do use measurement tools and statistical analyses when "testing" concepts, creative, and product characteristics. These measurements are quite useful; however, we are quick to point out that they are not used to make statistical inferences about the population. In this sense, these measurement are more akin to experimental design.


Focus Groups Require Preparation

Unlike a Survey in which we can pretest our questionnaire, start when we're ready,  or suspend interviewing to address issues, once the Focus Group is scheduled and the recruiting has begun, it's "show time" and we want to be prepared to take full advantage of this powerful research tool.


Focus Groups Are Adaptable

Researchers use variations of the basic focus group configuration to meet specific research needs, including length of groups, number of respondents, and a more experimental environment such as usability studies.














The "Nuts & Bolts"

Focus Groups Require Planning and Organization

Setting up focus group sessions requires discipline in assuring all elements are ready to go before recruiting respondents to a focus group facility on a certain date. There is a sizable financial responsibility in terms of reserving space ($500 to $700 per group), cost of recruiting ($100 to $150 per respondent), honorarium paid to each respondent ($100 to $150 per respondent), plus other incidental expenses. At a minimum, the cost per group is about $3500 for facility-related expenses, not including the moderator, analyses, transcriptions, and other expenses.

Before recruiting can begin, the following must be set in place—

  • A Screening Questionnaire used by the recruiting facility that assures respondents meet the requirements for each group (each group may have different requirements in terms of Gender, Age, Product Awareness, Levels of Consumption, and the like).
  • Stimulus Materials needed for each group (lists of slogans and benefit statements, collateral materials, print ads, TV ads, radio ads, web materials, and more).
  • Moderator Outline should also be in place (overlooked topics can have an effect on the screening process).
  • Assure availability of client observers.
  • A Professional Moderator needs to be in place as soon as the planning begins. At Roberts Research, Dave Roberts is involved from the very beginning. Moderating a Focus Group requires set of skills that are a combination of art and science in order to engage the group members while controlling "opinion leaders" , assuring that we are hearing genuine perceptions that are not influenced by "group think".

Typical Configuration

We typically recruit 14 respondents for 8-10 to show for each group. "Show rate" can be influenced by any number of conditions, including weather, competing events, time of day, and personal reasons.

  • Generally we conduct 2-6 groups per project.
  • Groups are recruited by a focus group facility, which also provides the one-way mirrored conference room for client observation.
  • Groups last 2 hours and respondents receive an honorarium of $100 to $150.
  • Groups are moderated by Dave Roberts.
  • Groups are audio and videotaped.
  • Deliverables include a Screener, Moderator Guide, and an In-Session Questionnaire (ISQ) along with a Final Report supported by Verbatim responses and analysis of In-Session Questionnaire data (e.g., rating a TV commercial on 1-5 scales).


While the above outlines a typical Focus Group, there are variations that also serve special needs—

  • Mini Groups (Approximately 6 respondents). For some topics (e.g., medical), we may want to observe interactions among respondents but have more time to probe issues of agreement and disagreement.
  • One-on-Ones. Also called "depth interviews", these can be done in a focus group facility to allow for observation and recording or in a less formal environment. The advantage of these personal interviews is that we can probe more deeply into topics and usually do so in much less time since we're not dealing with several other respondents at the same time. The downside is that these are labor intensive and it takes longer to complete a sizeable number of interviews.
  • Hybrid Usability. Usability studies are key to a continuous improvement program for computer, web design, and other human interfaces. The hybrid approach can take the form of One-On-Ones or 2-3 respondents at a time being observed as they complete a number tasks, particularly with a computer. We generally record their facial expressions and verbalizations simultaneously with a constant screen capture. These can be compiled across several respondents and played back for the interface designers.