Written by Rob Binns Updated on 14 July 2023 On this page What is a Focus Group? The Pros and Cons of Focus Groups The Advantages of Focus Groups The Disadvantages of Focus Groups Is a Focus Group Right for Your Business? Types of Focus Groups Next Steps Expand Our site is reader-supported – by clicking our links, we can match you with a potential supplier, and we may earn a small commission for this referral. Is a focus group the right market research approach for your business? Find out below, and receive tailored quotes from top market research agenciesFocus groups are a key market research tool and many businesses are unaware of the benefits they can offer, which includes deeper insights into how consumers interact with products, brands, and services.However, focus groups aren’t perfect and they might not even be the right market research method for your business.So what are the advantages and disadvantages of focus groups? Let’s take a look at our top seven reasons for and against using focus groups. What is a focus group?A focus group forms part of qualitative market research, during which a group of individuals come together to discuss specific topics. The subject matter could include brands, companies, or products, as well as prominent societal figures, such as politicians.Focus groups are usually conducted on behalf of a business or organisation, with the help of a market research firm. The best market research companies specialise in recruiting, conducting, and evaluating focus groups, using tactics and knowledge gained through years of industry experience.Focus groups are traditionally carried out in person and face-to-face. However, online focus groups (facilitated through Zoom or an online forum) are becoming an increasingly popular, cost-effective alternative.But is a focus group the right market research method for your business? The pros and cons of focus groups Pros Measure reactions, not just opinions Easily replicable Time-saving Provides a hands-on approach Detailed insights into key questions Engaged participants Cons ‘Groupthink’ Dishonest response Loud participants It doesn't capture a cross-section of society It’s expensive Moderator bias The advantages of focus groups1. Measure reactions, not just opinionsA key advantage of focus groups is that they take place face-to-face. Crucially, where this differs from research conducted through surveys or phone interviews, you’ll be getting a person’s opinions and their reactions.The direct nature of focus groups allows you to easily measure how participants respond to the physical nature of products, packaging, or branding. You can glean key info from visual cues, such as the group's expressions or gestures, as well as audial ones, like the tone, cadence, and volume of their voices.Online research groups have made it possible to reach a wider audience as it overcomes several issues, such as travel cost, distance, and conflicting schedules.Plus, unlike surveys, focus groups don’t limit your insights to what the respondent wants, feels, or is able to articulate in words. With focus groups, you’ll get the whole picture.2. Easily replicableFocus groups aren’t a one-hit wonder. Their format, questions, and style can be replicated in different places, cultures, and communities to provide a scalable form of market research.While your focus group will rarely be an accurate ‘cross-section’ of your audience (we'll discuss this below), you will be able to repeat focus groups because they allow for insights that can be seen as representative of wider society.3. Time-savingOne of the simplest advantages of a focus group is that it saves time.Rather than having to sit several different respondents down for individual interviews, you can facilitate a session with a number of people at once. This allows numerous viewpoints to emerge, and it helps cut down the time, hassle, and costs associated with data collection and aggregation.4. Provides a hands-on approachAnother pro for focus groups is that you gain the use of visual prompts or cues.The use of visual stimuli will allow you to provide a dynamic approach to the research as well as enable your participants to physically engage with the product you’re testing.Let’s say you’re gathering feedback on a new type of lipstick. How effective is an online survey going to be, or a phone conversation with a potential consumer? Not very. Now, consider a focus group.People can try the lipstick on. They can pick it up, feel its weight, style, and the size of the packaging in their hands. They can then provide open, honest feedback about factors like the colour and ease of application. Let’s face it, any comments you receive like this (in real-time) will be more useful than what will be gained from a generic online survey!5. Detailed insights into key questionsThe direct, face-to-face nature of focus groups will allow you to garner a richer sense of your customers’ needs and desires – particularly when the alternative is filling in a form, or ticking a few boxes.Focus groups enable you to ask further questions and explore specific comments and reactions, leading to a deeper understanding of your customers’ motivations and pain points. It’s this ‘why’ – that intimate knowledge of what makes your audience tick – that will play a pivotal role in shaping the direction and strategy of your business in the months and years ahead.6. Engaged participantsIt’s difficult to switch off in a focus group. Plus, focus group participants are are being paid – this incentive means they'll be highly engaged. Plus many consumers will jump at the chance to be involved with a product or service before it hits the shelves, getting a coveted ‘first look,’ or exclusive ‘sneak peek.’ This means they’ll usually be more engaged than your average market research respondent, while you’ll have to pay to get people to fill out surveys or take a phone interview. The disadvantages of focus groups1. ‘Groupthink’Famously coined by George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984, ‘groupthink’ describes a phenomenon where people feel a pressure to conform to the ideals or standards of a group – regardless of whether they actually share those views or not!Despite being lifted from the pages of a book published over 70 years ago, ‘groupthink’ still plays a role in many focus groups today. For a range of psychological reasons, your participants may get sucked into thinking as a group which, for obvious reasons, defeats the purpose of running a focus group at all.2. Dishonest responseDishonest responses can be found in any area of life. Similarly, anyone who's ever run a focus group will be acutely aware of the impact this disparity can have on accurate results.While ‘groupthink’ operates largely on the level of the subconscious, dishonest responses are a conscious decision. Whether it’s the need to feel liked, respected, or simply to avoid embarrassment, not all focus group participants will give you answers that reflect their true thoughts and feelings.This makes focus groups unsuitable for topics that deal with sensitive issues. If people aren’t willing to tell pollsters the truth about who they voted for, how likely will they be to open up to strangers about subjects they feel embarrassed about or are sensitive to?3. Loud participants Focus group participant behaviour will, naturally, be influenced by who they are as people. Introverts may be less comfortable speaking up, while those who are outgoing are likely to be more forthcoming with their opinions.Basically, your results may not end up reflecting the feelings of the entire group, but rather the ‘loudest participants' – that small, vocal subset of respondents who can influence opinion and skew results. 4. It doesn't capture a cross-section of societyJust as the active participants in a focus group can skew the results, the focus group itself may not be representative of your wider target market.While focus groups strive to reflect a cross-section of the population, this is extremely tough to achieve in practice. You should never assume that your group is a foolproof representation of your wider audience. Likewise, the findings of any focus groups should always be used as a basis for further research, rather than accepted as fact or taken as solutions.5. It’s expensiveThere’s no sugarcoating it – focus groups are expensive. The current average cost for a focus group is around £3,000 per session. This number depends on various factors, including the number of people hired. This cost covers everything from planning the session and sourcing the participants, to hiring a good facilitator and (most importantly) interpreting the results – so it’s not the cheapest form of market research around.The existence of online focus groups has helped to ease some of the financial pressure of focus groups. Online groups save on transport cost, venue, recruitment, etc.Depending on the kind of insights you’re looking for, a mobile phone questionnaire might be a suitable (and budget-friendly) option for your business.6. Moderator biasThe effect of cognitive biases on our speech and action is well-documented – and it’s often a harmful one. What happens when that bias belongs to the person you’ve hired to run your focus group?Whether intentionally or inadvertently, moderator bias can influence the exchange of ideas in a focus group. Moderators may ask leading questions, or unintentionally provide positive reinforcement for certain responses or comments. This can ‘snowball,' causing a group to come to inaccurate or unrepresentative conclusions.Moderator bias may also lead to participants only sharing insights they feel will be perceived warmly by the facilitator, while avoiding sharing their true feelings for fear of ‘disappointing’ the person in charge. Is a focus group right for your business?Well, that’ll depend on the kind of insights you require, and your reasons for pursuing this avenue of market research. It’ll also depend on the type of topics you’re dealing with – focus groups aren’t great for sensitive issues or potentially embarrassing topics. Types of Focus GroupsHere are some of the main types of focus groups:Mini-focus groupMade up of only four or five respondents, these groups are suitable for sensitive issues.Two-way focus groupsThis is the collaboration of two focus groups coming together to observe each other. The aim is to provide each group with further insight.Single-focus groupsThis involves a single moderator with a small group of respondents.Remote focus groupThis focus group is conducted online and can be helpful for gathering respondents from around the world, including restricted locations.Duelling-moderatorTwo moderators play devil's advocate to encourage new ways of thinking that could generate unique insights. Should you host a focus group? As you’ve seen, the answer isn’t so simple.Focus groups are ideal for gaining deeper, meaningful insights into who your audience is, how they behave, and what factors motivate their purchasing decisions. They save time, allow you to measure reactions (not just opinions), and are easily replicated across groups and locations.However, they can also be expensive and tough to get right. The responses you receive may be tainted by negative psychological phenomena such as groupthink, dishonesty, and bias, while individual personalities may affect group decisions. Plus, questions still remain over whether focus groups accurately represent the wider community – and if they offer anything of use.Ultimately, there are both advantages and disadvantages to focus groups. Whether or not running one is right for your business will depend on several factors, such as:Whether you’ve used a market research company beforeYour primary market research goals Your preferred method of talking to your customersYour budgetThese factors are important, and that’s why we take all of them into account when you complete our 30-second quote-finding questionnaire. It’s designed to give us a better understanding of the requirements of your business, so we can match you with the right market research experts.They’ll be in touch with you directly to offer tailored market research advice and quotes – you just need to be based in the UK to be eligible. Hit the button below to get started. Compare quotes from leading market research agencies and save Have you used a market research company before? Yes No It takes just 30 seconds... Written by: Rob Binns Services Expert Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings to the table industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, business loans, fulfilment, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny (socially-distanced) corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.