Focus groups are used to gather information to evaluate a new concept. In the business world, focus groups are used to test new products by creating a panel of potential end-users and allowing them to "kick the tires" before the product is made available to the masses. The use of focus groups presents an array of advantages as well as disadvantages.
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Avoiding Expensive Mistakes
Focus groups allow a company to determine what improvements need to be made to a product before it hits the market, or even if the product is viable at all. This can prevent a company from wasting large amounts of money on producing and marketing a product that isn't ready for the market or isn't what consumers are looking for.
Focus groups can turn into a type of brainstorming session where the end-users generate several new ideas. As a new idea is generated by one group member, the others on the panel can build upon the idea, making it better. The company can then determine if the recommendations are realistic and can actually be implemented effectively.
Focus groups can uncover problems with a product that would never have occurred to the company's production staff. For example, a household cleaning product may be rejected by a panellist not for its lack of effectiveness, but because the packaging is unappealing or the container is awkward to hold while using.
Moderators may inadvertently interject their own biases into the panel's deliberations, which can result in inaccurate findings. The panellists may be "led" by the moderator to reach certain conclusions about the product or may not want to go against the moderator's viewpoint, so their true feelings about the product are not disclosed.
Lack of Participation
Some panellists may participate more actively in the testing and discussion than others. Much like with moderator bias, a panellist with a strong personality or opinions about the product may sway the views of other panellists, or the other panellists may be intimidated and not want to speak up.
Focus groups are small, typically containing from eight to 24 members. Consequently, the group's conclusions may not be representative of the population at large. In contrast, the company could reach many more potential end-users by sending out questionnaires or testing the product in select target markets by distributing free samples.
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