Steve Jobs famously said:
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
This clearly works for Apple’s product designers who rely on their experience and skill to get the products right, but in marketing, knowing your audience is crucial in helping you create campaigns and websites that will reach, engage and convert those users.
Conducting focus groups is a good way of getting to know your audience – it won’t give you all the answers, but done well, it can reveal some useful and sometimes suprising stuff.
The most critical part of this task is to find out what users really think, and not what they think they think or what they think you want to hear. This is difficult because they’re not in the actual scenario you’re researching for, they’re in a focus group.
Getting a natural response is what you should focus on when creating your focus group format. Here’s some tips:
Relaxed, engaged subjects
The most effective user groups, i.e the ones in which you get the most realistic responses from, are ones in which the group are relaxed and engaged with the discussion. Acheiving this is difficult unless they want to be part of the discussion. The following points might help you acheive that:
It goes without saying that if you bring people into a dull meeting room, they’re not going to behave as naturally as they otherwise might. Wherever possible, visit them in their own environment so they feel in control and confident.
Start the session by asking them about about something they can identify with or questions they might all agree on. For example, if you’re interviewing students you might ask them who uses facebook or twitter – they’ll all have something to say. You can even ask something negative such as what’s your least favourite advert at the moment, people find it easier to be open and animated about something they dislike, and the group may find affinity with one another here.
To ensure the moderator doesn’t keep stopping to take notes etc. and is left to keep the discussion flowing, a second person should record the points made by the subjects on a laptop – it can at sometimes be very fast paced, especially if a few of them are very involved.
It will be necessary sometimes to use formal questions or handouts, but wherever possible, try to get all of your questions asked within a discussion. It will help if you think about this when you write them – try to put them in a logical order. However, don’t lead the discussion just so you can get it onto a relevant topic.
A useful tactic to avoid the group telling you what you want to hear is not to talk about what you want to know. Try to find ways to ask questions which seem unrelated to your research area, but actually tell you about how they think in similar scenarios. For instance, if you’re researching how people are influenced by their friends to visit a website, ask them about being influenced to visit a shop.
It definitely helps if you can keep things light hearted, but don’t do a David Brent.
Posted by Stu Marlow.