focus group

Let’s Focus Group It

I’ve been designing and moderating focus groups for three decades.  What an amazing idea:  put 10 of your best customer prospects in a room or 10 of your target “personas” in a room or 10 of the people you hope will vote for you or buy your product or service… and have them discuss why your product or service is best, how it could be improved, what it means to them to have it, what your competitors are doing better than you, how they hope your product or service will change their lives.

I used to resent the use of the title phrase “let’s focus group it,” determining that it demeaned the science and value of the group dynamic.  But, I’ve changed my mind.  Keeping “focus groups” front and center to help organizations understand “consumer” behavior is what I hope for.

This blog post came to mind when I saw this charming comic (I love comics!) about focus grouping in the 16th Century.

focus group

Six Chix comic by Isabella Bannerman, published in The Philadelphia Inquirer

But, from the point of view of the experienced moderator (me), I say this:  let’s not misuse these great tools and presume that they are quantitative survey samples or polls.  Focus groups work best when you need to hear the “whys” behind the numbers or the choices, when you want to learn what will really impact people choosing your product or service.  And, you need a moderator who knows how and when to ask the “whys” and help people consider their choices… because understanding that contributes to design of effective marketing communications, strategies, product concepts, and reasons-to-choose/benefits.

Let’s talk more about how we design and moderate focus groups for optimal results.


For more information, contact Linda McAleer at lmcaleer@meliorgroup.com or 215-545-0054 x104.

Tapping Into the Voice of a Community

Voice of a Community

By Elisa Foster

Marketing researchers often refer the people they study as audiences, markets, populations, demographic groups and consumers. These categorizations are useful when conducting research for a particular product or industry. However, when you constantly describe people as objects and concepts it is easy to forget what they really are: humans. This is why we often like to think of the groups we research as communities. People are not just members of demographic groups – they live in communities with complex cultural traditions and social norms.

As researchers, it is important to understand the context in which people exist in their communities. Ethnicity, income, gender and age are not just demographic identifiers; they are the factors that make people unique. As Randy Bowden puts it on his blog, “Everyone’s different and different people are attracted to different things for different reasons.”

From couples shopping for engagement rings to high school seniors applying to college, we’ve studied an extremely wide range of communities. And each project demands a specific type of understandingWe’ve learned that when you take the time to understand a community and learn how to engage with that community, you get the most valuable information and insights.

For example, it was not enough to research the basic demographics and statistics of a city known for violence and a high crime rate. To truly understand this community, we had to delve deeper and ask more complex questions through focus group research.  Why did families move to this city? How do they interact with other residents?  How would they react if a crime took place in their neighborhood?

When we wanted to learn more about how mothers grocery shop for their families, we decided that an online bulletin board focus group would be the best way to understand how a community of mothers in a specific geographic region makes decisions about which products to buy.

Sometimes our work helps communities better understand themselves. Recognizing that its community was changing, a regional Jewish service association wanted to learn more about the people it serves and how to meet their needs. Melior worked with a network of organizations to distribute an online survey to community members. This method allowed us to reach as many people in the community as possible.

These examples highlight one of the keys to a successful research study: when research is tailored to the people being studied, the results will be more than data points and quotes – you will garner deeper insights and begin to hear the voice of a community.