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The Vida Agency

A focus group primer: understanding your audience

Group of people sitting at Large table in a circle.

Often, our work involves launching a new product, developing a creative campaign, or understanding a need in the community. Input from the priority audience is vital to ensure communications are timely, thoughtful, respectful, and engaging. Recruiting a diverse group of individuals relevant to the project to discover what makes them tick is crucial.  

Focus groups help us learn more about the unique needs, opinions and preferences of a group or community. They provide depth, nuance, and variety of insights from community members and audience groups. In addition to two-way dialogue, nonverbal communications, group interactions, and the ability to pivot or delve further into a topic are additional benefits of focus groups.

Here are five tips for conducting an effective focus group:

Diversity is key

As communicators, we know that even within a very specific priority audience group, there are crucial variances and nuances that help us to understand and reach them as individuals. This is especially important when creating multicultural campaigns, including a range of languages. Including a diverse group means laying the proper foundation for thoughtful and inclusive communications work.

Qualitative or quantitative?

Your focus group might include a combination of qualitative and quantitative research design. Focus groups are generally more qualitative as they include rich discussion and open-ended questions. However, you might consider including a short, written component to garner quantifiable data while you have a diverse group of your priority audience in one room.

Which method is better? In general, both are useful depending on the goal of the focus group and can be used in combination to achieve the most thorough results.

Foster participation

It’s critical that all members participate as much as possible. Because the session is often a one-time occurrence, it’s useful to have a few simple ground rules that encourage participation and focus.

Consider the following three ground rules:

  • Keep focused
  • Maintain momentum
  • Get closure on questions

Consider scheduling

Optimal timing for focus groups is 1.5 to 2 hours. Be sure to schedule in plenty of time for rich conversation and to cover all goals of the research design. This will ensure a strong return on the investment of time and energy spent on planning, recruiting, and executing the focus group, as well as synthesizing and analyzing results.

Setting and refreshments

Hold sessions in a conference room or other setting with adequate air flow and lighting. Configure chairs so that all members can see each other. Provide name tags for members and don’t rush through introductions to foster a sense of community. Participants will also appreciate having refreshments available as a thank you for their time.

Interested in learning more about focus groups or inclusive communications work? Send us an email at