Clinical focus groups

Clinical focus groups are used because a person's true motivations and feelings are subconscious. We cannot take at face value what many customers have to say and the research needs to probe beneath the level of consciousness. It is assumed

Types of focus group and their characteristics

Characteristics

Exploratory

Clinical

Experiencing

Experience a real consumer

No

No

Yes

Obtaining a high level of interaction among the group members is essential

No

Yes

Yes

When a homogeneous group of people is required

No

No

Yes

Moderator's interviewing technique is critical

No

Yes

No

Moderator must have scientific credentials

Yes

Yes

No

Observation by management is appropriate

No

No

Yes

Verbatim quotes should be emphasised in the reports

No

No

Yes

that a person's real motives can be uncovered using clinical judgement. The focus group provides data for clinical judgement and the moderator has to be highly skilled to persuade participants to reveal their inner thoughts and feelings.

SOME APPLICATIONS FOR FOCUS GROUPS

New product ideas

Focus groups can give the client firm ideas for new products. A gap in the market may be identified and further research can then seek to identify the true size of the potential gap in the market. If several focus groups should come up with the same idea it may well be worth serious consideration, even though it may have been considered before and rejected. It may be possible to adjust costs, for example, so that profitability is more positive.

Focus groups can indicate the likelihood of success with a new product. It would be possible, for example, to test the concept of a new product for the current market. You would seek answers to questions such as:

• What would be its advantages?

• Would people accept the drawbacks of the product?

• How does the idea compare with other products?

• What is the reaction of the group to various product features?

• What does the group think about the product's performance capabilities?

Problems with decreasing sales

When sales have declined rapidly on certain products, focus groups can help uncover the reasons. The products, for example, might seem to be doing the job they were intended to do, but other problems might become apparent. Minor inadequacies in product design or packaging can cause customers to switch to competitors' products. A focus group can be given several competitors' products to examine (without identification) and their positive and negative comments about the products can then be noted.

Price

In a time of inflation or recession, a producer may be looking for ways to cut costs and lower prices. Unnecessary product features may need to be eliminated. Focus groups can be used to identify these unnecessary features.

Customer attitudes

Focus groups can uncover consumer attitudes towards the sponsoring firm sufficiently to warrant further research that can lead to beneficial and remedial action.

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