Focus Group Moderator on Myths

Group Think, Dominators and Lame Participants All?

Having been a focus group moderator for more than a decade, I have heard clients express many myths about qualitative research, especially focus groups. They perpetuate “group think”.  One or two noisy people dominate. You can’t believe any insights based on conversations with numbers of people less than three or four digits. Or, to extrapolate from some conversations I’ve had, people in focus groups are unemployed losers who have no life – otherwise why would they bother to come talk to us?

Group Think

Group think: While organizations struggle against this well-known phenomenon, it generally exists inside their walls because of power issues. Most organizations weight the thoughts of those with bigger titles, high salaries and better cars above those without. By contrast, a well-run qualitative study brings equals together. A professional focus group moderator avoids being a “know-it-all” Four Colorful Folded Newspapersand instead plays the sophisticated amateur, letting the participants be the experts. In these ways, the group works together to define truth, allows for disagreement and builds on ideas.


Dominators: The group itself often puts a check on those who dominate; when the group silently invites the focus group moderator to help she can gently redirect the dominator, giving others more space to talk.

Same Old Participants

Only professional participants bother to show: How a recruit is conducted, the convenience of the experience and the incentive payment all affect who shows up to participate. BuyerSynthesis has created a proprietary method that results in many first-time qualitative participants. They come due to curiosity, interest in the topic, the perk of a few extra dollars and, although they seldom say this, the beauty of being listened to for an hour or two by someone who truly cares what they have to say.

Ignorant Time-Wasters

Why don’t they know these things?  I think about them all day long!: Marketing research ideally brings new ideas, insights and understanding about customers, prospects and companies. Blaming participants for their “misinformed” ideas shuts us off from hearing what real people think and feel. Try to listen with an open mind and you’ll be directed toward new actions to meet people where they live. After all, it’s their money that’s paying your salary!

Small Samples Big Ideas

Lastly, qualitative research, like focus groups and IDIs, uses the concept of triangulation.  Assuming that the people talked with are independent of each other, a must in a professional recruit, if you hear the same answer three or more times to an open-ended question like “What do you like?”, you can be pretty sure that many, many others feel similarly.

Photo by Flickr User(RambergMediaImages)

Smart qualitative research leads to more profitable marketing decisions. BuyerSynthesis. The buy-whys™ marketing research company.

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