Focus Groups. Opinion vs. Communication.


I’ve done tons of focus groups and having done so know how unreliable they can be, if improperly used. Since moving to Asheville, NC I’ve spoken to many entrepreneurs, communications and branding people who love the idea of doing groups. They mean usually mean one focus group. Maybe two. Very sketchy.

Advertising exposure is a focus group type I used a lot. We’d share ads or adlobs (ad like objects) with consumers to see what they communicated. What did the ad say? Did you believe it? How did it make you feel? Did you learn anything? We didn’t want to know if they liked it or how to improve it, we just wanted to understand the communications value.

The second type of group was more opinion-based. We delved into consumer attitudes about products, competitors and the category at large. Questions got into care-abouts and perceived good-ats.

In both cases, it should be noted, findings were always directional – meaning not projectable or scientifically true. The samples were too small and the group dynamic or hive-mind effect could alter opinions.

The only truly bad research is research that misleads. And focus groups that delve into opinion can mislead. It takes a good moderator and good research design to keep it on track. So be weary. There’s a great bromide that states “opinion can make an ass of you and me”…well, um, you know what I mean.