Methodology Decisions: When to Use (or Not Use) In-person Focus Groups

Mike Karchner
Marketing Insights e-newsletter
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Key Takeaways

  • Focus groups in some cultures are less effective because older respondents are perceived as having more wisdom and experience.

  • Focus groups work well if the group is later divided into teams or pairs to complete an exercise.

  • Respondents who may also be “competitors” to one another, such as business owners, may also be less appropriate for focus groups.

Focus groups have long been relied upon by marketing researchers to glean a view of how a particular audience will react to given stimuli. In many cases they provide an accurate assessment, either assuring marketers that they are indeed on the right track with their offering or revealing to them that they’ve missed the boat. But in some cases, it’s the focus groups that should be reaching for the life preserver.

Every industry, every product, every sector is different than the next, and therein can lie the problem with using focus groups to gather data. Focus groups rely on individuals coming together to work on and discuss a subject; they “leverage the group dynamic,” with participants building upon what others have said about the topic. But for this to provide valid, usable data, the focus group participants must feel able and be willing to disclose their feelings openly and honestly. And in some cases, that just doesn’t happen.

​Some situations by their nature do not lend themselves well to focus groups. Whether it’s competitive individuals, individual bias or a diverse subject requiring days of detailed, minutiae-filled discussions, the use of focus groups may do more harm than good. Mike Karchner provides a thorough examination of this issue and offers tips for (or against) using focus groups, based on decades of market research experience across many industries.​

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Author Bio:

Mike Karchner
​With almost 17 years of experience in sales, marketing and marketing research, Mike Karchner is a RIVA-certified master moderator, member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association and president of Karchner Marketing Research, LLC. Prior to launching KMR, he specialized in pharmaceutical and health care marketing research as an associate director with Research By Design. He also served as a senior researcher at Capital One, where he was instrumental in developing the marketing research function.
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