How to Work With Focus Groups to Test Your Niche or Business Idea
Do you have an idea for a product or a retail niche but aren’t sure if there is a market for it? Do you hesitate to launch because you don’t have enough validation that your idea will succeed?
If you answered yes to these questions, you need to test your niche through focus groups.
A focus group is a small group of consumers that reflects your intended target market. By pitching your idea to them and analyzing their responses, you can gauge the viability of your idea and make changes accordingly.
As we’ll show you below, it’s both accessible and affordable to put together a focus group to test your niche. You’ll learn how to find the right people for your focus group, what to ask them, and how to analyze their answers.
What is a Focus Group?
A focus group is usually
Analyzing these responses gives the business insight into the way the group perceives the idea or product.
Roughly 70% of all market research dollars in Fortune 500 companies are spent on focus groups, according to Marketing Research Association.
Primarily, focus groups give you qualitative insight into an idea, product, person (such as politicians) or even a piece of art.
The use cases are extensive. Businesses (especially in the FMCG sector) frequently use them to test everything from packaging to new product categories. Movie studios use them to test early cuts of blockbuster movies. Even government organizations use focus groups to assess their
What focus groups can tell you:
- How a
highly-specificdemographic thinks or feels about a product
- Why people feel the way they feel about an idea or product
- How you can change a product or idea to serve the target market’s needs better
- How you can market the product or idea to its intended audience.
What focus groups can’t tell you:
- How individuals would react to your product or idea
- How individual preferences can change over time or the product’s evolution
- Whether learnings from one group apply to another demographic
Although they have their flaws — notably, groupthink and management issues — focus groups remain one of the best sources of qualitative research for any business. Combined with
In the next section, we’ll discuss how to create your focus group.
How to Work With a Focus Group
Qualitative research through focus groups involves four steps:
- Planning and researching the focus group
- Finding appropriate participants
- Developing a set of questions
- Analyzing group responses for actionable insight.
Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail below.
1. Plan the focus group study
A focus group study involves extensive planning and research. You have to research your target audience and
To do this, you have first to nail your value proposition. Unless you do it, you can’t figure out who to pitch your idea to.
Start by listing down the following:
- Why you sell: As Simon Sinek says, start with why. List the core reason for the business’ existence and the philosophy behind it.
- What you sell: Mention your exact product names and their categories.
- Where you plan to sell: Specify all your target channels
(e-commerce,social media, physical stores, online marketplaces, direct sales, etc.)
- Which needs you fulfill: List the key issues your business and its products solve. Do this for the company as a whole and each product in your catalog.
Your goal is to figure out your target market from this data.
One way to do this is by digging through your competitors. We’ll show you two ways to do this below:
Audience research with Amazon
Amazon is an excellent place to start your research. Head over to the full store directory and look for your broad product category.
For example, if you sell gardening tools, you would select Garden & Outdoors as your home category.
Narrow your niche further on the next screen by selecting a
Amazon will let you
Thus, you now have your home category (“Garden & Outdoors),
Your next step is to analyze how your competitors are advertising their products.
Turn to Amazon again to find the
For example, this gardening tool set mentions comfort grip handles for arthritis in the description. This indicates that the target market is likely older (since younger people are unlikely to have arthritis).
Make a note of these for all your products. Your objective is to build a demographic sketch of the kind of person who would buy your products.
Audience research with Facebook
Another free source of market research is Facebook. Head over to the Audience Insights tool in the ad manager.
Choose Everyone on Facebook on the next screen.
Start your research by adding your principal competitors in the Interest field. In case the competitor doesn’t show up (common in small niches), look for a leading publication in the niche instead.
For example, if you’re selling
Look for job titles, education level, location, household income, home ownership, etc. Also look at their page likes to see what other brands and activities they’re interested in.
Use this data to create a rough sketch of your target demographic. This will help you in the next step where you find and recruit your focus group audience.
2. Find participants for the focus group
The research you conducted in the above step should give you a good idea of who you should include in your focus group. At the very least, you should have the following information:
- Average age
- Location (rural, urban, city size, state, etc.)
- Household income and education level.
You’ll use this when selecting candidates for the focus group. Limit your group size to
There are several places where you can find participants, such as:
Craigslist: Suitable for
Facebook Groups: Search Facebook for your target niche keywords to find dedicated groups. Look for active groups that have the same audience profile as identified above.
For example, here are some searches for men’s shoes:
LinkedIn Groups: Search for your target keyword on LinkedIn. Select Groups in the top down menu to limit your search to groups instead of people or companies. Look for a group with the same target audience.
Here’s an example search for shoes:
Reddit: Reddit’s subreddits (or
For example, here’s a search for shoes. Both the first two results look promising:
Once you find your target groups or pages, you can either try to contact its members individually or join the group and post your requirements. The former is more time consuming but will give you better results.
A few things to keep in mind when you post your requirements:
- Include a monetary award for participation. Make this substantial enough that people feel their time is valued, but not so much that you get participation just for the money.
- Specify your requirements (concerning demographics and interests) very clearly.
- Mention that they’ll be asked to appear together in a recorded
group-interviewsetting via webcam.
- Specify the purpose of the focus group. Write a brief description of your product/company.
- Specify the tentative date, time and length of the interview. Confirm that the participants are available during that time.
Conduct the Focus Group
Conventionally, focus groups are conducted with all the participants in the same room. The proceedings are recorded so that the responses can be analyzed further.
This approach works for large businesses but can be cost prohibitive for small companies.
A workaround is to use a video chat tool such as Google Hangouts or Zoom. Whatever tool you use should have a) recording capability, and b) ability to host all your participants (plus the moderator) at once.
Ensure that the tool is accessible to your selected participants. Avoid anything that requires special software.
The next step is to create a list of questions for the focus group. These questions should focus on the participants’ interest in the idea, their opinions, concerns, likes, dislikes, etc.
Here are a few tips for creating your questions:
- Be clear: Every question should focus on a specific issue and should solicit a single answer. Participants should not doubt as to what the question asks of them.
open-ended:Your questions should focus on a specific topic, yet encourage discussion. Think in terms of broad qualities — benefits, flaws, things that can be improved, etc. — and ask questions related to them.
- Encourage discussion: Your primary goal is to get people to start talking. The more diverse the range of opinions, the better. In case the conversation stalls, don’t ask additional questions to solicit responses.
You can even group your questions into separate categories, such as:
Product-related:What features do you like about the product? What do you dislike? Sales-related:Would you buy this product? Would you recommend this product to a friend? If yes, why? If no, why not? Results-related:What results or benefits do you expect from using this product? What side-effectsor inconveniences are you worried about? Change-related:How could this product be improved? What specific changes would convince you to buy it? Pricing-related:How much would you be willing to pay for this product? What could convince you to pay more?
Ideally, you want a minimum of 10 minutes for each question. The larger the group, the more time you want to reserve for discussion.
Lastly, you want to get a moderator to conduct the discussion. This moderator should be unaffiliated to your business or have a minimum stake in it. You or your employees are too close to the business and will likely influence the discussion with your biases.
A friend or relative with people management skills and some business
know-how(but no relation to your business) would be ideal for the moderator role.
Once you have your questions and the moderator, get your participants to
It goes without saying that if you can get participants to meet in the same room together, you can skip the entire video chat process.
3. Analyze and implement the feedback
The final step is to analyze and implement the feedback from the discussion.
Start by asking the moderator about his/her general feelings about the focus group. Did the discussion go as planned? Did everyone get to participate or did one person dominate? Was there a diversity of opinion or did they fall into groupthink? What findings, if any, would the moderator draw from the responses?
Next, go through the discussion recording. You can analyze the answers in two ways:
Individual-focused:Gather every participant’s responses to the questions. Map these responses against the participant’s demographic profile. Analyze how the participant’s interests, biases, income, age, and education impact his/her answers. Question-focused:Gather all the answers to a single question. Condense them into a few short takeaways. Analyze these against the average profile of the whole group. Compare them to individual responses. Does the average opinion of the group clash with personal views? If yes, why?
It’s a good practice to adopt both these approaches. You want an understanding of what the target market thinks as a group as well as individual customer responses.
Finally, draw a few takeaways from your analysis. List the following:
- Key benefits of the product
- Key flaws and shortcomings
- Things that can be improved
- Things that should stay the same
- Resistance to pricing
- Estimated market demand.
With this feedback, you can start implementing changes before launching your niche idea.
Launching a new product or business is seldom easy. You never know how the market might respond to the idea. You can estimate demand based on competitors’ sales and research reports, but nothing beats sold qualitative research.
One of the best ways to conduct this qualitative research is through focus groups. By asking a carefully selected group of people about your niche, you can get a reasonable estimate of market demand, buying preferences and potential pitfalls.
That can help you save money before you launch and ensure that you have an idea that’s vetted by your target market.
Have you ever conducted a focus group study? If yes, we’d learn to love your experience in the comments!