January Reflections on Focus Groups


Mid-discussion and you have something you really want to say: coffee machines, they just don’t produce a coffee as good as your Lavazza instant.

The response is surprisingly a friendly one, a game-changer in fact, as other participants begin to agree, yes, instant coffee is comparable to a machine’s. Now the mood has changed, some people are feeling less guilty about comparing a cup of Kenco Gold to the once assertive consensus that it’s Nespresso or nothing.

You’re in a focus group, a small collection of people gathered together and having a discussion, unified by something communal; perhaps age, location, or dietary preferences. In this instance, you’re all interested in hot beverages.

coffee cups with love hearts

Just what are focus groups, and why are they vital to understanding a category?

Usually consisting of up to 12 participants, a moderator, potentially a note taker, and possibly a client in disguise, a focus group is a market research method with a view to collecting qualitative data, which will be analysed for trends and inconsistences later in the research process.

The moderator must be an involved person, communicative, and engaging. Driven by a prepared discussion guide, they must allow for the spontaneity of group discussion and, most importantly, disagreement. Often, insight is not found in what is said, but in a participant’s attitude.  

Projective questions are one of our favourites. Word association activities ‘if this brand were a celebrity who would it be?’ never cease to provide a good anecdote.

But seriously, focus groups are a vital way of gathering consumer insight. These days, people are more opinionated than not, and more than happy to shout about it remotely. While human behaviour will always dictate what is and isn’t said in a group surrounding, and this deviates from opinions voiced online, focus groups are a classic, valid method of data collection for a reason.

Sure, we live in an age of digitalisation, and this is where most opinions are found, but are they trustworthy? People are more in tune to the emotional engagement of shopping for FMCG because it is an activity integrated in time and culture. 

An obvious contradiction is online shopping. Yet, while grocery search queries are rising by c.20% y-o-y, 90% of purchasing is carried out at physical stores (Google, The Grocer 19/12/18). But this is a whole other kettle of fish.

For now, let’s realise the importance of focus groups. They’re fun to run too.

If you or your brand requires category and consumer insight, contact [email protected] to discuss your market research needs. 

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