Focus Groups
VanAmburg Group Focus Group Implementation Process
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Traditional focus group conduction developed as a research tool in the early 1980s. Online focus groups have emerged since about 2000. They share common approaches, with a few distinctions.

Focus groups provide in-depth qualitative information about opinions and attitudes through group interviews with a small number of carefully selected people discussing your choice of topics as a group. You can test or investigate almost anything by listening as people share and compare their different points of view about what they think and why they think a particular way.

Meetings usually last 2 hours, giving about 1 3/4 hours for conversation.
You can use focus groups in many ways:

  • As a single-session stand-alone research tool
  • In a sequence, modifying your questions from one group to the next
  • To understand issues before creating questionnaires for statistically valid surveys
  • For clarification of issues by selected respondents to completed surveys


Focus groups allow you to probe deeply into issues, and to openly guide and listen in on your customers' conversations. But be careful not to draw statistical conclusions from the information you take away.

Assuming your market or universe is more than 10,000, even if you selected participants randomly and conducted five focus groups of 10 participants each, your sampling error from combined responses would be 13.8% (given a 95% confidence level), meaning the real answer is probably within a range of 27.6% of your number. This is far too wide a range to make important business decisions, so don't go there.


Focus groups work best with six to twelve participants. We usually design for 10 in each group, meaning that we normally recruit 11 or 12, and compensate any over 10 who arrive, sometimes including them, sometimes sending them on their way.

You can recruit by phone or through an online screener survey. Your goal is to make the process as time and cost efficient as possible.

You (or your client) get to determine who all you want represented in your focus groups. The bottom line is that you are bringing people with common experiences or interests together. Often a research project will use multiple groups to understand opposing views. Selection can be as open as including "anyone who buys your product". Often there are simple mixes by sex, age groups, happy and unhappy customers. However, some corporations give us complex formulas to include in screening surveys that we use to identify participants.

Both traditional and online focus groups usually involve compensation to participants. Consumers are provided with $25 to $100 reimbursement for time and travel expenses. Most focus groups seem to average $40 to $50 per participant. Professionals such as physicians are more difficult to recruit and compensation usually ranges from $100 to $200 per participant.
Traditional focus groups usually provide light refreshments, sometimes a meal.


Focus groups can be held anywhere you want. For traditional focus groups:

  • Dedicated focus group facilities provide specialized space that accommodates a reception and waiting area, one or multiple focus group rooms with two-way mirrors connecting to adjacent client viewing rooms, exits for participants separate from the reception area, separate entrances for clients, and kitchenettes. Meeting rooms are wired for audio and video recording. Newer facilities are also wired for internet feeds of audio and video, along with moderator computers to enable remote client viewing and instant messaging with the moderator during sessions.
  • Meeting or conference rooms in hotels, business incubators, universities, and trade association facilities often make good focus group facilities, and can be less expensive to rent (or free).
  • Technology now enables you to hold focus sessions almost anywhere with physically-present groups, using web cams and wi-fi to live broadcast the session to decision makers or to record meetings for later sharing.

Recording has shifted from audio and videotape to digital, computer-based recording, editing and sharing with clients. Additional information is usually gathered through note taking.


Internet focus groups allow you to bring participants together online, usually using closed instant messaging for them to communicate with each other and the moderator. Some folks utilize participants' webcams to enable each participant to see a video feed of all other participants and the moderator on their screens, headsets to converse as if they were in the same physical room, and instant messaging for side chats.


While technology has simplified the focus group process and often lowered overhead costs, getting the most value and information from your focus groups still requires a professional approach. One key is the involvement of a trained moderator, skilled in maintaining group dynamics. The moderator may also be an expert in a specific topic area. No matter what, the moderator needs to understand the underlying objectives of the study.

Prior to the session:

  • Define your objectives.
  • Structure the categories of information you need to address.
  • Create specific questions within each group.
  • Prepare moderator notes to guide the 2-hour session.
Research Secret: One of the custom approaches we work with is to prepare written or online mini-surveys for each section of the focus group. Prior to opening the issue for discussion, we ask participants to complete that mini-survey. This provides us with an additional level of understanding, and tells us what each participant's attitudes or beliefs really are prior to being influenced by others in the group.


CONTACT US to help make your research the key to your company's future.

Copyright VanAmburg Group, Inc.
Updated November 4, 2008
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