Two Crucial Aspects of Good Focus Groups

CNN made a mess last week when they conducted an interview with a “focus group” identified as “eight Republican women from Dallas.” When critics pointed out that this group actually consisted of committed activists, including the national director for Trumpettes of America and at least two other women who are members of the Texas Women for Trump Coalition, the validity of this “focus group” was rightly called into question. 

It’s a shame that the focus group as a concept also got dragged through the mud in this instance. Focus groups are a cornerstone qualitative research approach for good reason. They are an excellent methodology when it is necessary to consider diverse perspectives and views. They also provide a particular benefit to analyzing ideas that have a strong social component; those that depend on interaction among groups of people to understand. Both of these good focus group qualities would have been useful for CNN in understanding the story of Trump voters. 

But to do a focus group properly, there are two things that have to be done correctly to ensure a useful outcome.

First, recruitment is key. CNN failed here and any focus group that doesn’t get recruitment right will as well. It’s fundamental. All the insights from the group will be coming from these recruits and this panel of people speaks for many. The recruitment absolutely must represent the right people - be they customers or voters - or else the information that comes from them will be flawed. 

Yet recruitment is rarely a straightforward process. It’s challenging to find the right people and have them agree to take the time out of their day for someone else’s research. This is only growing to be more complex as the target audiences that marketers and researchers need to reach become more narrow and harder to find. 

We take pride in our recruiting, ensuring that our clients can speak to great representatives of the target audiences they seek. When confronted with delivering a difficult audience, we couple our decades of expertise with creativity to resolve the challenge. Our team pairs both innovative and traditional recruitment methods with creative engagement tactics to ensure that our clients research goals are met using the best possible group of respondents. 

Second, having an excellent moderator is also critical. Leading a group is a unique challenge. It requires the ability to tease out the nuances of meaning while also listening and responding to messages that aren't being verbalized among a large group of people, each of whom may express themselves differently. A moderator must be an expert of interpretation with the capacity to unpack messages and discern patterns. 

We work with a group of terrific moderators who are experts in their field and have conducted groups over many years, in all kinds of industries and for an incredibly diverse roster of clients. The experience they bring and the methods they use to engage with groups is always impressive. 

We are always confident going into focus groups, because we know that at the end we will have new insights for clients. Our incredible moderators always pull out new ideas and information from a well-recruited group.