Focus group facilities come in many forms and usually are optimized to meet the needs of certain target clients. Facilities are often run as independent business spaces and are rented out on a daily or weekly basis to marketing strategy groups. Some are designed to host large groups, and others are tailored for intense, small group discussions and product evaluations. Some focus group facilities also are optimized for online focus group meetings, particularly those that link participants from various places.
Many companies utilize focus groups as a way of testing products and ideas on consumers before introducing them to the market. For focus groups to be effective, they usually need to be made up of a representative sample of the target consumer base. Sometimes these groups can be made up only of local participants, but more often than not, companies want the opinions and thoughts of people all over their market area, which might encompass whole countries or geographic regions. Companies in this situation often travel great distances to conduct focus group research. Focus group research facilities are essential pieces of this equation, and they essentially provide the company's "home away from home" for the duration of the group's meetings.
Most focus group facilities are operated by professional market research corporations. They usually involve entire structures devoted entirely to temporary occupation by various companies. It is not uncommon for a focus group complex of this sort to contain a great many options when it comes to actual focus group facilities. This way, the market research corporation can serve many business clients, often simultaneously.
Rooms are often small, and they usually feature a discussion table at the center. The idea is to promote intimacy and trust among the participants. In most cases, the rooms contain one-way mirrors where the proceedings can be observed by marketing staff members. Many rooms also are equipped with recording devices, either video or audio, so that marketers have a means of going back and analyzing focus group conversations. This is particularly valuable when multiple groups are conducted on the same topic in different cities.
Some facilities are connected so that marketers can monitor multiple groups at the same time. This can be very useful when control, nominal and advisory groups are being held simultaneously to discuss a certain product or idea. A control group in this setting usually is asked to discuss a basic product, often something that the company has already released or has already found to be successful. In the nominal group, participants are asked to brainstorm about a product that they are told has not yet been created. Advisory group participants are asked to comment on the template that the marketers are planning to release.
This sort of three-tiered model gives researchers more context when seeking to put their findings into action. To work, however, it usually requires nearly identical settings for each discussion. Facilities that are optimized for this kind of study often offer adjoining or easily monitored rooms set up in just the same way.
Basic amenities are a part of most facilities packages. Site sponsors often provide snacks, meals and break spaces. They might also provide audiovisual displays and office supplies as needed. Focus group facilities that cater to food testing companies often provide extensive test kitchens, preparation areas and closed sampling rooms.
Online focus group facilities usually are a bit different. Companies that are looking to test out ideas — that is, companies that are not looking to watch consumers actually interact with a given product or service — often look to host focus groups online as a means of saving costs and reducing travel. Some online focus group facilities are little more than chat rooms or spaces in virtual worlds, although many companies offer separate focus group spaces where participants can congregate in fixed facilities around the world, then connect to each other via webcam or videoconferencing technology.