When an agency (or a client) wants to gain the opinion of a select group of people, a focus group may be the research method chosen.
Qualitative research: "Primarily a form of exploratory research. It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research." (www.snapsurveys.com)
Quantitative research: "Used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into useable statistics. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviours, and other defined variables – and generalise results from a larger sample population." (www.snapsurveys.com)
Focus groups: "A form of qualitative research consisting of interviews in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging." (wikipedia.org)
In a focus group survey, respondents from the target demographic are typically put in a single group (usually 6 to 12 members), and interviewed in an interactive manner. The participants are given the opportunity to talk freely about the topic at hand and express their thoughts and opinions.
The focus group approach presents various pros, strengths and benefits, as well as cons, weaknesses and drawbacks. It's important for an account manager to be aware of both sides of the coin, and to understand when it may be advantageous to suggest a focus group solution to your client.
You may also be faced with a situation where your client wants to conduct a focus group, and you know that he will likely be heavily influenced by the results, which in turn could impact your agency's work. It would be advantageous if your client includes you in the focus group preparation, so you can advise on questions to ask, respondents to select, etc.
Understanding the pros and cons of focus groups will enable you to have informed conversations about the process and results.
There is an inherent danger in letting the results of a single focus group guide your client's business or campaign direction. The hope is that the insights obtained will be enlightening, but the main thing is that focus group results should be considered in context with a wider body of information, such as research, analytics, sales reports, personal observations, and anecdotal feedback before important decisions are made.
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