How to Format Focus Group Interview Questions

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Focus groups are an important market research tool companies use to gather feedback on their products and services. They provide an opportunity to have a conversation with a set of individuals to better understand their views and opinions. 

One of the key aspects of a successful focus group is asking the right questions. It is up to the  facilitator to ask the right question, know how/when to probe for more details, and prompt discussion between focus group members. 

This article can help small businesses conduct professional and successful focus groups for the best feedback possible. It’s also useful for participants to know what makes a good focus group experience. 

Read below for some pointers on how to make a fantastic focus group experience!

How to Decide Which Questions to Ask

Research is the most important part of conducting a focus group – and it happens way before participants enter the room. 

The questions asked will depend on a few factors:

  • What do the participants invited have in common? What are the differentiating points?
  • What is your goal for the study? What information do you want to leave with?
  • How do you want participants to engage with your questions? Will they recount personal experiences? Positive or negative? 
  • Why now? What is the urgency in conducting this focus group? Why do you need this information (campaign? PR? Product development? etc)
  • Do you want to highlight customers or your features of the product? 

These are just a few questions you should ask yourself while designing the questions, but they are critical to ensure that you don’t walk away with a bunch of useless mumbo-jumbo. 

Brainstorm your questions without a filter or critical eye, then review them with coworkers or people that have a stake in the project to narrow down the most impactful ones. Some marketers also suggest that you run a ‘pre-test focus group’ before the official one to further refine and define your strategy.

5 Kinds of Questions to Ask

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These aren’t specific questions, but rather the format of the questions you should be asking to extract maximum value from your participants. Review your list of questions and use this list to determine the best format each question should be structured. 

Engagement Questions

Engagement questions are the most direct type of question and set the outline/tone of the material. They usually aren’t that specific to the product or brand, but more about the subject or industry in general.

This lets the facilitator know the general attitudes and behavior of the group, and get them talking/thinking about the subject.

Questions like: ‘What’s your favorite brand of (product/service)?’ or ‘How much do you usually pay for (general product/service)? are examples of engagement questions.

Information-Seeking Questions

Information-seeking questions are just a layer deeper than engagement questions. Typically they feed off of those questions to seek more information specifically about the product.

‘What is your favorite/least favorite think about (product)? Or ‘What experiences do you have with (product)?

Clarifying/Summarizing Questions

These questions allow for the moderator to clarify an answer or response that was unclear or too brief.

Typically you want to rephrase an answer to allow for confirmation/rejection of your interpretation. 

A direct question such as ‘What do you mean when you say ___?’ is a great way to clarify or go deeper into a point.

A summarizing question is a restatement of the response. An example of this: ‘So what I hear you saying is… is that right?’ This is best used when you want to just understand the information so you don’t misquote or misinterpret someone when you analyze the data.

Exit Questions

Exit questions are questions directly related to the subject matter previously discussed. Questions such as: ‘Would you like to say anything more about ___ topic?’ or ‘Is there anything important that we missed while discussing ____?’

Keeping these questions balanced between open-ended and specific will ensure that you get any additional information you need while staying focused on the topic at hand.

Basic Outline

Every focus group discussion is different, but most follow this general format to guide the group along in a logical and progressive order.

Introduction

The introduction is where the facilitator should formally introduce themselves and their experience with the company and/or client. Establishing good rapport is critical during this section to build a positive experience from the start. 

Expectations for how the group is run should be reviewed so that no one is confused.

Allow for participants to briefly introduce themselves and respond positively and empathetically to encourage further sharing as the group continues.

An ice-breaker may be appropriate during the introduction stage depending on the context of the group or participants. It may be a good deal to plan for one just in case the group needs a bit extra time to warm up.

Core Questions

The core questions should make up the bulk of the focus group. Typically they are about 6-8 questions that move the conversation forward and focus on the core pieces of information needed about the product or service in question.

Questions, Comments & Closing

Just as you built rapport in the beginning of the focus group, it’s just as important to make sure the participants feel supported and good about the experience as it concludes.

This is obviously less about easing participant nerves and getting good responses and more about ending the group on a positive note. Selfishly, it’s reputation management… but it also allows the conductor and participants alike to feel productive and professional. 

  • Give participants a final opportunity to comment and ask questions
  • Assure participants that their comments will be shared with the client or company. No one wants to feel they wasted their time or energy.
  • Remind participants of your privacy policy and reassure them that they will remain anonymous
  • Thank everyone for their participation and let them know other ways they can get involved if interested.
  • Distribute incentives and invite one last round of refreshments, if appropriate
  • Give a formal conclusion to the group and direct people out.

Final Thoughts

Focus groups can be a fun, positive experience for both the facilitator and participant. Preparation and structure shows the company, clients, and participants that you respect their time, effort and trust in this process.

I hope these guidelines will help you design and experience a focus group that blows your expectations out of the water!

Til payday!

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