Run Your Focus Groups Professionally

Focus Group Process
click to enlarge


Conducting your marketing research [Wikipedia] incorrectly can cost you millions of dollars. Honest, I’ve seen it happen.

A lot of folks take the attitude, “It’s not rocket science”. And it’s not. But if you do it wrong, you can draw the wrong conclusions and destroy your business. So please do it right.

I thought I’d begin our weekly posts on marketing research with some of the research tools that have been developed over the years, starting with focus groups.

There are two categories of research, direct (do it yourself) and indirect (find someone else’s data). If you are going to do your own research, there are two general approaches, quantitative (statistically valid surveys, for example) and qualitative, such as executive interviews or focus groups.

We’ve written a number of articles for your use in this site, with one article on focus groups.


You can access any of the research articles by clicking on the Research button at the top of every page, or on Research in the left navigation bar. Then simply look down the navigation on the right to find the article that interest you. You can find the article on focus groups at

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


Whenever we include a client’s customers in a focus group, we’ve learned to allow up to 20 minutes for venting of problems. This is particularly true for companies like utilities, whose geographical monopolies prevent dissatisfied customers from securing another vendor. Or large technology companies like Microsoft.

Utility customers will bring up events that may have occurred 5 to 15 years previously. But they never found anyone from the company who would listen. They usually don’t expect resolution (fixing the problem) or recovery (making up for the problem). They just want a sympathetic ear. And your moderator is representing the company.

By listening carefully, the moderator can turn these long-term angry customers into advocates for the client in a matter of minutes during the meeting. These individuals then often provide the most insightful information, perhaps because they have thought a lot about the company and its products or services.


This takes us to an interesting issue. Many companies insist on remaining anonymous throughout the entireĀ  research process – some because they don’t want to taint the objectivity of responses, the rest I don’t know why.

After a number of decades in the field, I have strong opinions on this. I prefer transparency.

Research done correctly can maintain the objectivity of the results, while still having a marketing impact on all respondents.

We normally get the best results by explaining to the participants that the client has to be anonymous so that they give us unbiased answers, but that before the session is over, they will know who the client is. Then we design the focus group to collect needed objective ratings and other information before releasing the client’s identity.

By knowing who is paying them to share their experiences and opinions, participants usually rise to the occasion and present deeply insightful comments and suggestions.

Want further insights on how to design your groups? Read the article on focus groups.

David VanAmburg’s involvement with marketing research began in 1968 when he was hired as a a research analyst with technology leader, Lord Corporation. Since 1977, he has provided over 2,000 research studies for clients in 165 industries, designed the first national hunger study for America’s Second Harvest, and taught MBA courses in the subject. He loves designing research studies and analyzing results. “Getting the data back is like Christmas. You can learn so much”

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

David VanAmburg
VanAmburg Group, Inc.
Brilliant Marketing Solutions
Erie, PA, 16509

Thinking Big Works: Marketing Tech Mindshifts BLOG
MutualGravity, Inc., Custom eBusiness Solutions SOFTWARE
FullCircle Rewards, Loyalty Programs INTEGRATED MARKETING

Tags: , , ,

4 Responses to “Run Your Focus Groups Professionally”

  1. Frank Martin Says:

    Always glad to see more insight out there on focus groups. As a methodology, they are lambasted unfairly when the real problems are poor design, poor moderators and companies that don't know the difference.

  2. David VanAmburg Says:

    Frank, thanks for your comment.

    Our challenge is to educate ourselves before conducting our own research or accepting research done by others as valid and valuable.

    Recent technology gives us all instantaneous access to data. But it's too easy to mistake information for useful knowledge. Typing a term into Google does not necessarily make for good research. :)

    You are correct that many folks think that designing and moderating a focus group is comparable to sitting down a cup of coffee. Poor research can kill a product or company, yet focus groups conducted correctly can be phenomenal resources.

    I'll share war stories and lessons learned over the coming weeks and months, and hope that you might do the same.

  3. Run Your Focus Groups Professionally | DataRecovery Says:

    [...] original post here: Run Your Focus Groups Professionally Share and [...]

  4. Nick Corsi Says:

    An more interesting look at focus groups in terms of the nuances of interaction conduct. Moreover, most articles on focus groups will tend to point out the dry logistics of "how", "where", and "whom." By understanding the ultimate goal of the research and by understanding the "customers perception" of the company and the product or service, research can be more fruitful when you play into the emotional top of mind interests of the research subjects.

    -know your customer better than you know yourself—I believe the phrase goes…

    A good read

Leave a Reply

Free eNewsletter

Stimulating resources for a more fulfilling life & affluent business.

Blog Schedule & Access