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How to run a research focus group

Posted by Louise Palmer on 10th June 2013

At EML Wildfire we’ve launched many effective PR campaigns that focus around research. Omnibus surveys no doubt have their place in the PR world. But research in the truest sense of the word needs to go beyond quantitative studies if we are to truly uncover insights and gain knowledge.

A recent project we carried out for a new product, Loop, emphasised the importance of using qualitative research approaches to form a PR strategy.  Our series of focus groups enabled the brand to pinpoint its target consumer audiences, understand the features that would resonate and determine any objections in advance.

The focus groups insights proved critical in devising brand and PR messages that resonated with visitors to the Loop stand at the Ideal Home Show 2013, where sales exceeded the target.

Focus groups can also be just as valuable for a B2B audience as they can with consumers, whether you’re looking to target IT managers, marketers, engineers or business decision makers.

Here are our top tips to running a successful research focus group:

1. Prepare well

To make the most of running focus groups, preparation is critical. Understand who you need in the room to provide a balanced view; do they need to live in a specific area or have a specific job title? Take time to prepare materials to prompt discussions and debate, and have a clear idea of what you want the focus groups to tell you, so you know what needs to be covered. It’s also important that you can demonstrate your service or provide physical product in the room.

2. Be objective and listen

Any brand, marketing or PR manager is likely to know their product or service inside out. But this can become a distinct disadvantage when planning focus groups. Focus groups need an open mind, so dispel assumptions about your target audience and all the reasons why you feel your brand excels. Don’t lead the discussions with messages you like, but instead allow them to tell you what resonates.

3. Use quantitative research to inform discussions

Qualitative research approaches like focus groups don’t need to work in isolation. Make use of omnibus surveys as a first step to identifying the likely target audiences or testing messages. These insights can then be transferred to your focus groups initiative to make them as productive and ‘focused’ as possible.

4. Get involved

It’s fascinating to sit behind ‘the mirror’ and observe the focus group in action. And there’s no better way to see first-hand a truly independent reaction to your brand. If you can’t manage to make it in person then make sure you obtain a video of the proceedings, or at the very least a transcript.

5. Call in the experts

Planning, arranging and facilitating a focus group is a fine art, so bring in the experts. They will be ideally placed to advise you on audience selection, manage recruitment, select the venue, moderate the sessions and, perhaps most importantly, provide you with an objective summary presentation of the findings.

Louise Palmer

Deftly switching between business and consumer accounts, the focus for Louise remains the same; how can Wildfire tell clients’ stories in a way that is faithful, relevant and engaging? Her wide technology PR experience makes Louise an agile Managing Director, combining the strategic management of PR programmes with a hands-on approach to get under the skin of clients and motivate her teams.