Qualitative Research - part 2B what are the basics?

market research qualitative research ocus group marketing research buying research focus groups 101 an introduction to focus groups

This blog is designed for people who are just thinking about commissioning qualitative research perhaps for the first time. We are going to cover advanced questions later in this series. For now we're going to look at the 'mainstay' of qualitative research which is a focus group. (We will cover depth interviews later).  

The point of both of these methods is to understand why people do what they do. So in what shape do they appear, what is a focus group first and what are the key hallmarks of a good one? Focus groups are when 6-8 strangers come together to discuss a brand, organisation, service or product. They are typically held in a 'viewing facility' where clients watch the group through a one-way mirror. The basic idea is the moderator or the leader of the focus group asks 'neutral questions' as opposed to 'leading ones'. So they'll ask 'what makes you say that?' as opposed to 'Do you think Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest best supermarket around?'. 

The reason for this is to give the method a pseudo-scientific neutrality so the moderator is not imposing his or her views. They typically last between 1.5 and 3 hours and their format takes on the form of an inverted 'v'. An example of this is best, suppose you want to understand the views on a particular supermarket, you start wide with understanding people's views to food, it's importance relative to other things. Then you move onto understanding shopping habits and then the brand itself, let's say Lidl or Aldi. Moderators typically do 'projective techniques' to access the subconscious views on these brands. He or she might ask for words associated with the brands, or to describe them as houses, where would they be located, what sort of house etc. The underlying premise is that it's hard for people to explain in any depth their views of different supermarkets without techniques that allow them to explain things more deeply. So for example, if asked most people would say Lidl or Aldi are cheap. However, if you want to know what Lidl or Aldi's new communication campaign should be, you need to understand the images, voice, tone and sentiment that will allow them to connect with this. 

The conversation is semi-structured. You can think of it as being like a book with chapter headings, e.g. New foods in Britain today and the participants fill in the blanks. A good moderator will have training in psychology because we are trying to understand the real motivations for behaviour which aren't always clear. 

A key question is 'who should be present' in a focus group? We'll dive into that in the next blog. Here are some useful references:




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Jake Pearce

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"Different to get better results". Jake is obsessed with marketing ROI. He helps companies amplify word of mouth to get business more easily. He uses Meanomathics to boost Comms cut through 10-30%. He uses co-creation to future proof innovation - he turned around a drinks category providing 15% growth using professional co-creation. And he helps top CEO and celebrities with their personal branding and brand purpose, which links back to Word of Mouth marketing. 

Worked with Vodafone,Kellogg'sMcDonalds,ANZ,McDonalds,Suntory,Danone,HSBC,Barclays,BAT,Meat Brands,Saatchi&Saatchi,Draft FCB,Fairbrother Industries, Les Mills, Holmes Place, Grey and a host of digital start-ups.

Jake Pearce is a specialist in brand planning, development & innovation. Jake is currently working on a Word of Mouth Marketing start-up, a personal branding start-up and new delivery systems for wellness products. 

www.jakepearce.com - for brand development and innovation

www.womtwo.com - for word of mouth marketing expertise


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