A while back, Purveyor House lead a focus group for a startup. We were looking for clarity about if the service offered was needed, how our target market felt about it and what we should call it.
We were amazed at the incredible feedback our group gave us. It was insightful, thoughtful and, most importantly, helpful. At the end, we were able to clearly see that we were on to a great idea and had a clear list of things to update as we moved to implementation and launch.
Not sure what we're talking about? Read on to find out what focus groups are, why they can help you and how to facilitate your own.
Focus Group 101
What are focus groups?
Focus groups are a gathering conducted by a founder, marketer or third party to facilitate a guided conversation regarding a particular product, service or new business idea. They happen prior to launch with people from the product’s target demographic who have diverse perspectives.
Why are they important?
Many business founders are so close to the product or service that it makes complete sense. Advice from loved ones is helpful, but it can still be too close.
When a group of people who are in your target market speak freely and without reservation, they can help you see the value of what you’re bringing to market, what holes you need to patch up and what questions you may hear from others (and how to answer them) as you launch.
When is it a good time to set one up?
Anytime! It’s never too late to get outside perspective. Ideally, focus groups occur after a vision, mission and business plan have been set up. At this stage, you know what your product or service is going to be, have enough detail on logistics on how it would work and can define who should be the end user. Being able to answer detailed questions is helpful to guide the conversation.
If you haven’t figured out those pieces, that’s ok. You can either wait until you’ve put in some more work or set up a group with people who haven’t heard your idea to see if it holds weight with them. You may find their insight is just what you need to form the idea more fully.
If you’ve already set up shop, it’s not too late for a focus group. Having a different perspective can be huge when you want to shift gears in your business, offer something new or rebrand.
Who gets invited?
We’ve found the optimal size of a group is anywhere between 5-8 people. This gives a diverse pool of experiences and perspectives but is also small enough that everyone has a chance to speak.
It’s important to invite people who would purchase what you have to offer—in other words, your target market. By inviting and engaging with your target market, you’re able to see if your idea is one they’d purchase, what their reservations are, the types of questions you need to answer in your marketing and website, and what resonates with them in how you describe it.
How does it flow?
Ideally, focus groups are lead by a facilitator. This person can either be the founder or someone like a marketing lead or hired agency. By using a third party, the founder is able to watch the interaction, answer logistical questions and take notes. The goal is for the facilitator to keep the conversation on track and press on attendees for deeper and richer answers when appropriate.
Set The Stage
Why did you invite them?
Introduce the facilitator if they are a third party.
STATE YOUR GOALS & RESPONSIBILITIES
What do you want to achieve at the end of the conversation?
What are everyone’s responsibilities while here?
Founder - Their goal is to gather feedback, answer detail questions on how the service works and to take notes. If they are facilitating, they will also to ask the questions.
Facilitator - If they are used, they keep the conversation moving, make sure that everyone has a chance to speak, and ensure that the answers are in line with the goals of the gathering.
Attendees - They are here to provide honest + thoughtful answers to questions while keeping respect for the idea, founders and other attendees.
DEFINE THE TARGET MARKET
Share who this product or service is build for using your target or ideal demographic.
The target market for this offering is...
VISION + MISSION
Lead off with your vision + mission statement to provide a framework.
The vision + mission for for this offering is...
These are the questions we asked our recent focus group. You can fine-tune and tweak to get the results you desire from your gathering.
What are your immediate and unfiltered thoughts on hearing the vision + mission statements?
Are you interested in this offering?
How many people can you name that would be good quality candidates for this service?
Would you share this offering with someone you know?
What would motivate you to insist that a loved one check out this service?
What are your reservations about a service like this?
What assurances or answers to questions do you need ?
What type of marketing would motivate you to get more information regarding the offering?
The name of this service is _________. Does that resonate with the offering?
Tips for A Great Conversation
Probe for more detail and deeper explanations & experiences. Ask leading questions to get deeper into why attendees feel how they do about your product or service and how you are describing it.
Have something tangible. If you have an offering that can be seen or felt, bring it! For example, if you’re looking to rebrand and have a mood-board or rough logo designs, print them out and go through a series of questions that ask for attendees’ first impressions.
Record the session. Use your voice memos if you have an iPhone. Just be sure that everyone knows they’re being recorded and are OK with it. That way, you can focus on what’s being said without furiously scribbling.
Bring a friend who knows your offering. An ally who knows your plans can help by asking extra questions and facilitating a unique conversation. Just be sure they are still open to giving constructive feedback.
Be sure to lay out expectations on the privacy of the conversation. If you’re OK with those in the group telling others about the conversation and your offering, let them know. If you want them to keep it a secret until you are ready for them to share, then be sure you say that in the very beginning. Understand that details may still leak out, so be prepared for that.
Keep it casual, simple and open. Let the attendees know you value their time and feedback.
Resist defense + be open to feedback. You may hear things you don’t like, don’t agree with or find upsetting. Remind yourself that it’s better to hear this now than to find yourself months down the line wishing someone had said it sooner. However, this is still your idea, so, while attendees’ input may be helpful, you are still the captain of the ship.
Send a thank you note a few days after the group.