What Are the Different Types of Focus Group Techniques?

Jan Fletcher

Focus group techniques consist of several approaches. A researcher may elicit free-association responses from participants to questions, or he or she may do interactive surveys. Focus-group leaders often gain insight into how consumer opinions and attitudes might be impacted by group dynamics through conducting group interviews. In another approach, mock events are staged to test how subjects react to a particular scenario. Sometimes a focus group is conducted in order to lead participants in a collective visioning exercise.

One common focus group technique is to conduct group interviews.
One common focus group technique is to conduct group interviews.

Guiding subjects in free-association exercises is one of the most commonly used focus group techniques. While asking open questions, or presenting visual or auditory stimuli, focus group leaders will closely observe individual responses. Often, those leading the focus group will note carefully what group dynamics may surface during the exercise. Almost always participants are filmed, so that the client who contracted with the focus-group company may later review the footage in detail.

Guiding subjects in free-association exercise is a commonly-used focus group technique.
Guiding subjects in free-association exercise is a commonly-used focus group technique.

A mirror that hides a one-way viewing window is frequently used. This allows the client of the focus group provider to watch participants. It also enables live communication with the focus group leader via an earpiece. The client often has the ability to pose questions to participants in real time.

Focus group techniques that employ interviews may be conducted in person, through video chats, or by telephone. Interviews may be one-on-one, or in groups. These interviews are generally recorded with the subject's permission. Researchers may use these focus group techniques to gain feedback on proposed marketing campaigns. Soliciting new conceptual ideas for logos or branding efforts is another reason for using this technique.

The science of observing group dynamics is often foundational to revealing how people may react under the influence of peers. This focus group technique typically gathers a group of strangers together, presents a scenario, and observes how the different personalities in the group will respond to a particular stimulus. Mock events offer researchers and companies insight into how employees or citizens may respond to a disaster, for example. These focus group techniques sometimes reveal surprising information about how test subjects may respond to an enticing opportunity, or to peer pressure.

Gathering a group of strangers together into a collective visioning exercise may assist an organization or company in gaining insight and new ideas about how to communicate more clearly with a particular constituency or market segment. For example, a mining company may hire a focus-group consultant to uncover fears and underlying emotions from those who bear close similarity to the type of constituents who might mount opposition to a new mining development. In this way, the firm may better prepare convincing arguments, in order to sway public opinion.

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