Focus Groups

By Chaitra Somasundar, Staff Writer

For the Global Customer Insights class taught by Prof. Sainam this Spring 2016, students were required to form focus groups in order to better understand the concept of exploratory market research. Students divided into five focus groups and many T-birds were a part of these sessions which provided insights  from a customer’s perspective. These focus groups helped the organizing teams design a survey that further enabled a firm to expand in the right product categories. This brings us to the question:

What is a Focus Group?

A focus group is a free-flowing, open-ended discussion among six to ten participants. This discussion is conducted by a team with a research objective for a company or industry. The interviewer is referred to as the “moderator” and his team members are “observers” of the responses of the “participants.”

T-Bird Focus Group on smart watches (photo courtesy of Chandra Mouli Koduri)
T-Bird Focus Group on smart watches (photo courtesy of Chandra Mouli Koduri)

The five focus groups conducted research into market demand for mobile food delivery, Indian ethnic wear, smart watches, travel websites and international tea. The focus groups were all conducted face-to-face at Thunderbird to provide the moderator with better control over the discussions. Team members decided on the questions that corresponded to their objective. When the ‘Das Tor’ team approached the Indian ethnic wear team to inquire about their experience organizing the focus group, they said that while finalizing some of the questions, they had an idea regarding the kind of answers they would receive. But the focus group participants gave contrasting answers, providing surprising insights from a customer’s perspective. For example, a team was in the process of suggesting that a firm launch exclusive high-end designer ethnic wear. But the insights provided by the focus group concluded that it is more fruitful for the business to launch regular wear instead.

I was a participant in the focus group researching on the market demand for Indian ethnic wear. We touched upon various topics such as the frequency of wearing ethnic clothes, the openness of a community to Indian clothing, affordability, accessibility, variety and ease of use. The team members revised their surveys based on our answers in these categories. “From an observer’s perspective, a challenge for the moderator and the team was to constantly amend upcoming questions based on the participants’ answers”, said Kaladhar Rachabathuni (MBA ’16, India). To know more about the moderator’s challenges, we asked Himanshu Kaul Sahib (MBA ’16, India) about his experience. “It was a challenge managing thoughts flying from everywhere! One had to constantly lead the discussion and ask probing questions,” he stated.

In our day-to-day lives, we see hundreds of products being introduced every day. And each of these products or services needs to go through a lot of research before launching to market. Focus groups key to providing different ideas, fast results and narrowing down the project scope of a company. By organizing  focus groups and involving participants of diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, T-birds have gained hands-on, real-life experience that puts prepares them for the future.

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