Friday, September 25, 2009

Focus Groups - What Do They Accomplish?

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Focus groups are useful in generating new product ideas or evaluating of new product concepts in very early stages of development before a great deal of time, effort, and money are expended. Some industries leap ahead by preparing a prototype, which is then evaluated by a focus group.

In addition, focus groups also evaluate existing products to assess quality, whether all the features are necessary or if others ones are needed. Much information can be garnered by employing focus groups, as long as management realizes that information is based on small, non-probability samples that can limit the ability to generalize the results to an entire target market.

In general, what can be garnered in one session are: users' attitudes, beliefs, desires, and reactions. This market research data can then be integrated with the goals of the organization.

The group consists of:
The moderator (sometimes called the group leader or instructor): who guides, prompts, nudges, and stimulates discussion and elicit reactions from the participants. •The participants: generally 8 to 12 past, present, or prospective clients, customers, and others interested users paid to give their opinions about a service, product, or some entity that needs to be evaluated.

Materials Needed.
•Index cards and markers for making nametags for focus group participants.
•A table and enough chairs for the moderator, recorder, and focus group members. •A seating chart for the moderator.

Main presentation of the item to be evaluated:
1.Decide what you want to learn. For example: Let’s assume that a commercial bank is about replace and install newer ATMs and they want to make sure that the screen colors are appealing.
2.Write a script for the moderator to follow (use bullet points and questions, both annotated as to the time allotted for each).
3.Management either hires a skilled moderator or appoints an articulate individual within the organization to rehearse and follow closely the bullet points in the script.
4.Tape the sessions and have one or more people take good notes. 5.When possible, in addition to the prototype, use visual aids such a graphics and charts, slide shows, or videos.

Action and Interaction:
When all the participants have been seated, the leader welcomes the focus group by thanking them for agreeing to participate in this activity. Tell the participants that they will be asked to give their opinions on the colors only.

Tell the focus group that the only rules are (1) no opinion or idea expressed is judged foolish or even outlandish, and (2) all participants in the group will have a chance to share their opinions. Re-emphasize that no idea is “off the wall.”

Pre-closing activities: The moderator asks selected individuals if they are satisfied with the interaction among themselves. Often some members may volunteer information that might have been overlooked during the course of the session.

An experienced moderator will keep the session lively and flowing, by stepping in with pointed questions.
“That is a fantastic point you just made! Can you expand a bit more?”
“What makes the screen gaudy? Is it the pink, the red, or the blue?”

If interaction is poor, the value of the conclusions drawn from the focus group may be questionable.

Closing the session
Thank the focus group participants for their contribution. Give praise with general remarks such as: “You were just wonderful. Two or three of you kept this thing jumping, and I thank you for that. I loved your input! The moment you see the screens and the colors you helped us choose, you’ll feel proud that you pointed our bank in the right direction.”

Focus groups (sometimes called study groups or research groups) are useful not only in large businesses and in small businesses, but also in the professional occupations, too. The pastor of a church may use them to evaluate his sermons; a comedian can have his performance evaluated; politicians, accountants, and others as well.

The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

Sentence Openers

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