How to Get More Accurate Data from Focus Groups

The best way to understand a focus group is to know what they did, rather than what they think.
The best way to understand a focus group is to know what they did, rather than what they think.

We often engage consumers to answer some of our business questions through consumer surveys or focus groups.  However, how accurate can the data be?  Are the respondents giving projections on what they will like to be, vs. what they are?  Will they be influenced by group think from other members of the group?  Or will they be nice and say nice things about your brands even when they don’t feel so?

Understanding the mind is certainly a big hurdle.  Relying on what consumers say means you have to trust them a lot, and hopefully their answers really reflect the real reasons and motivations behind their decisions.

I found that the best way to get more accurate data from focus groups is to observe their actions.  Very seldom do they try to hide what they have done.  They may mask the reasons and motivations, but they will often tell the truth about what they have done.

Find out what they do, and under what circumstances did they make the decision.  Get them to do the act itself, e.g. observe them buying the product from the supermarket, and using the product in their daily lives.  Understand their daily surroundings, and the environment they are exposed to most of the time.  It’s true that sometimes consumers don’t really understand the true reason they do something, as it’s in the subconscious mind or habit.  Through their actions, you can observe and deduce for them their real motivations for buying certain products.



Downfall of Focus Groups?

Many authors have predicted the death of focus group in favour of something better, one to one interviews. I have done both extensively before, and there’s no wrong or right. But I personally prefer the focus group method. Here’s why.

It saves me time. I do research, brand management, advertising and many other business stuffs that occupy my day. Do I have time to do six sessions of one to one interviews? No. I prefer a session of focus group with 6 people.

Focus group is deem to have ‘group’ behaviour. One or two will influence the rest. Some will be inhibited. Some will be loud and dominating. Some will follow others’ opinion for fear of being ostracized. True, but only to a certain extent.

This same group dynamics can do lots of good as well. The social interaction can bring on deeper insights when one comment is built on another. Sometimes the focus group can run by itself through the interaction between the members.

Group dynamics can bring on high energy. This makes people feel safe to share more on their deeper thoughts and wants.