12.1.2 Focus groups
A focus group is simply a group of people gathered together to discuss a particular issue. They have been used in all kinds of social and market research, including political policy making. In market research for product design, a focus group might be a group of purchasers of a particular product brought together to discuss their feelings and attitudes towards the product and rival products; or perhaps their general likes and dislikes about those types of products. The intention of the market researchers is to gather information that might be useful in understanding consumer choices, and providing pointers for product improvements and new product developments.
A focus group would typically have between six to a dozen participants and a discussion leader, in this case the market researcher. The leader will have a list of issues to guide the discussion, but will allow the participants to develop their own topics of discussion, so as to let the discussion go in directions favoured by the participants. Examples of particular products to be discussed will usually be available.
As group facilitator, the discussion leader tries to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to voice their opinions, and that everyone feels able to raise issues they want to discuss. However, the leader will normally have a set of prompts in case discussion dries up – but it is important that any such prompts are used merely to trigger discussion from the participants, rather than to suggest what those responses might be. Often, this is a matter of phrasing the prompt appropriately. Therefore, for example, rather than asking, ‘do you think the material of the handle gives it a high quality, comfortable feel?’, the prompt should be, ‘when you hold it, what do you feel about the quality of the handle – and why?’. The leader's aim is to phrase the prompt in a neutral way, like a genuine query, rather than leading participants into particular responses.
Phillips is one of the world's leading consumer product manufacturers. This extended video clip gives an insight to a variety of techniques they use to uncover the needs and wants of their consumers.