Part I: Focus Groups: An Effective Qualitative Research Method for Primary Data Collection

As I stated in the lead column in this three-part research series, marketing research should combine both quantitative and qualitative studies, and should include both secondary and primary research. Secondary research is gleaned from external data that's been collected for a purpose other than your specific objective. Secondary resources include industry associations, analysts, and syndicated industry research organizations, such as CAP Ventures and Trendwatch; government and financial published reports, such as the SEC; and databases, such as D&B and Lexis-Nexis, Hoover's and the U.S. Census.

In order to obtain information pertinent to your own particular problem, however, primary research is necessary. In the previous column, we discussed surveys, which one of the more common quantitative methods. In this column, we'll discuss focus groups, one of the most often for qualitative research.

There are reasons why focus groups are so popular: They elicit spontaneous discussion of the core research problem; they enable deeper understanding of customers' needs and wants; and they can generate ideas for future business decisions. Focus groups are also relatively easy to administer, thanks to the many dedicated research facilities located throughout the country. These provide not only the facility, but also recruiting services, catering, and audio/video recordings of sessions.

Dedicated Facilities

For many years, before focus group facilities became so widespread, we conducted sessions in hotels, a situation that was mind-boggling in terms of logistics. Now only did we have to find a hotel that was convenient for participants, we also had to locate an appropriately sized space that didn't have outside traffic or other potential noise conflicts. We negotiated catering, since food was separate from the hotel room rental, and we booked outside videographers to tape proceedings, a service typically not provided by hotels.

Luckily times have changed. Today, dedicated focus group facilities handle not only recruitment and catering, but also every other need, including experienced moderators. And you can find facilities in nearly every major metropolitan city, as well as in key outlying districts. And competition has kept prices relatively reasonable.

Another argument in favor of a dedicated focus group facility is the infamous one-way mirror, which allows you, the client, to view and participate in the proceedings. At the outset of a focus group, participants should be notified that they are being observed. In most cases, the identity of the client/viewer is not disclosed so as not to bias participants' discussion. At the end of the session, however, you may want to identify the client/viewer. There have been many instances when the discussion was so in favor of the client that customers actually "sold" prospects on the benefits of working with the printing company, which made identification of the client/viewer automatic.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2002 Traversant, Inc. All rights reserved.

June 20, 2002
Print & Graphics
Column #39, 6/02
Printing Journal
Column #39, 6/02
Focus Groups
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

<Column Archives