As we all know well, research is a critical component to every public relations, marketing, and advertising campaign out there. Knowing your audience is vital to the success of social marketing programs. And while there are numerous methods of gathering data about your consumer, focus group testing is one of the most commonly used market research techniques…for good reason.
I work on a campaign that involves (among an array of other elements) the development, distribution, and tracking of print, radio, and television public service announcements (PSAs). We have continually sought ways to keep our PSAs fresh, engaging, and relevant to our target audiences and public service advertising directors because our PSAs have to compete for ad space with paid advertising campaigns. To do this, we’ve conducted focus groups approximately every four years since the campaign’s inception.
This past Summer, we conducted focus groups in five different cities, to gain insights in order to develop relevant messages and new PSAs based on findings. We tested a variety of actual PSA concepts we put together prior to the research, and we are now in the process of analyzing everything that we heard from our focus group participants.
When I was in college, I participated in focus groups for extra cash. Let me tell you…it’s very different when you’re on the other side of the two-way mirror. I want to share a few lessons from my experience this Summer…best practices if you will. I would appreciate comments as well—I’m sure others have a lot to share!
Ensure that your moderator guides do not put words in participants’ mouths. People LOVE to talk about themselves generally, and if someone has something to say, they will most likely say it (although it may take some nudging).
Beware of group think and try to recognize it. Group think is when people express similar opinions to the others in the group, even when it may not reflect their own.
Listen to the shy folks. Often times, there are a few dominant people who will comes through in focus groups, but just because they have a louder voice, it doesn’t mean that the shyer people don’t feel just as strongly.
Listen to “Whys.” Listen for reasons that people would or not go for your product, be it a PSA, an environmentally friendly hair spray, or a reason to be healthy. This will help you decipher where you audience is really coming from.
Select the right participants. Ensure that your participant group is within your target audience, but pay close attention to make sure some diversity within that group. 8 people who are all white, age 55, make $60,000 per year, and live in the same neighborhood is likely not a good representative sample of your target population.
Don’t get hung up on counting. If you have people rank taglines, for instance, or ads in order of preference, this is good data. But it’s not the only data. Recognize attitudes and even facial expressions. Pay close attention to the things that can’t be counted.
Perhaps most importantly…be objective! We all have favorite ideas and brands and materials and sometimes we can’t help but want our participants to agree with us. But push your bias aside and LISTEN to your audience. They are the true-tellers of whether or not your product, ad, community idea, etc. will work out.
One more note. Quantitative research is important too. There is no doubt about that. But sometimes, quantitative research lacks an insight into The Big Picture. Perceptions, attitudes, backgrounds, and feelings can all contribute to whether or not someone is going to buy a product or change their behavior. And these factors cannot be measured by numbers. Focus groups provide qualitative information, so that we, as social marketers, can truly understand our audiences.