Blog post by Stakeholder Insights, Standing Partnership’s research partner.
Are you struggling to figure out what your audiences think? Using focus groups to listen to your stakeholders talk about what you offer or could offer often yields usable insights. These insights can then be used to capture their attention and achieve your communication objectives.
“A focus group is a carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, nonthreatening environment.” (Definition from Focus Groups A Practical Guide for Applied Research, Krueger and Casey, 2015, SAGE Publications, Inc.)
Here are some of the basics to keep in mind when conducting a focus group:
- Focus groups allow participants (typically 8-12 total) to easily interact with each other in a personal way to help flesh out an idea.
- It’s not only what words people use, but also body language and how enthusiastically they convey and defend their ideas to others that’s important.
- Focus groups are not about averages or bell curves. An idea expressed by a respondent in one group can spark a robust discussion that leads to insights—beyond what you typically get from an online survey.
- A focus group is about listening to stakeholders. The focus group moderator or facilitator listens respectfully to what participants say and encourages them to share ideas and perceptions.
- Facilitators also ask participants to explain why they have the views they do. Their answers suggest how your messages or marketing strategy might veer off track in terms of relevance, believability and comprehension. Their answers suggest ways to course correct.
A few examples of insights gained from focus groups:
Sometimes it is also important to validate focus group conclusions about what messaging is most relevant to a stakeholder group. This can be done by conducting a follow-up online or telephone survey of several hundred target audience members. There are two benefits to this:
- Confirmation that what you heard from focus group participants reflects typical thinking across the entire population.
- Opportunity to learn how reactions to messages may differ by demographic and psychographic characteristics, like age, ethnic background, income, region of the country, and heavy versus light user status.
If you would like to improve or test your marketing messages with stakeholders, consider using focus groups. The insights gleaned can be very useful! For more information, read Standing Partnership’s Ground Rules for Focus Groups.