How Focus Groups Work

Advantages and Limitations of Focus Groups

A moderator usually leads the discussion.
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Focus groups are rarely used in isolation. Marketing researchers employ a variety of tools, including one-on-one interviews, written surveys and polling to track consumer opinion. Used with all of the above, a focus group is an integral part of gauging public perceptions. However, they do have some obvious benefits:

  • The researcher can interact with the participants, pose follow-up questions or ask questions that probe more deeply.
  • Results can be easier to understand than complicated statistical data.
  • The researcher can get information from non-verbal responses, such as facial expressions or body language.
  • Information is provided more quickly than if people were interviewed separately.­

While all of these are valid points and give more information than a survey or questionnaire, they don't always give as much as is needed to succeed. For example, focus groups in the early 1990s said they liked Crystal Pepsi, a clear drink that tasted like cola. Nevertheless, when the product was introduced across the United States, the public didn't buy it, and Pepsi pulled it from the shelves.


Some of the reasons the company failed in producing a popular product could include some of these disadvantages:

  • The small sample size means the groups might not be a good representation of the larger population.
  • Group discussions can be difficult to steer and control, so time can be lost to irrelevant topics.
  • Respondents can feel peer pressure to give similar answers to the moderator's questions.
  • The moderator's skill in phrasing questions along with the setting can affect responses and skew results.

In the next section, we'll look at specific examples of what organizations have learned from focus groups.