3 Tips for Better Focus Groups with Women

Better Focus Groups with WomenWomen-only focus groups will yield more honest answers from women-the best group of customers for helping you differentiate your brand on the details. Here are three nontraditional research approaches to help you conduct better focus groups with women.

1. Girlfriend Groups

Developed and refined by the LeoShe division of the venerable Leo Burnett advertising agency, these girlfriend groups are like a new generation of the Tupperware parties of old. The researcher meets with a group of women who all know each other at the home of one of the group’s participants. A familiar environment and a known group make the members more relaxed; they feel more able to be themselves rather than focusing on delivering answers to a moderator.

In addition, in the home environment women are closer to the point of usage of the product-and therefore more likely to be in touch with the details that make a difference.

Because they all know each other, they keep each other honest. Admit it: if you believed everything you heard in a conventional focus group, you’d think no woman ever fed her child those “evil” sugared cereals. (So who buys them, the little Irish elf on the box?) But if Melanie hears Joanne saying that she always feeds her kids the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, Melanie is likely to call her on it, “Oh please,” she’ll laugh, “You may be serving Alex two helpings of vegetables each night, but he eats dinner at my house with Simon two or three nights a week, and I guarantee you he isn’t eating them.” That’s when the researcher learns that Melanie has been hiding the vegetables by pureeing them into spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, and even waffle batter-an interesting idea, if you’re a food company looking to build share among moms.

2. What We Learned from Oprah

This type of group is a provocative and highly effective format developed by Mary Lou Quinlan, founder and president of Just Ask a Woman. Modeled on the television talk-show format, 35-40 women in the target segment are recruited to be in a mock TV audience.

Quinlan hosts the show herself, leveraging her lively wit and sparkling personality to charm the candor out of her guests. The show is taped, just like a broadcast and edited to highlight the key revelations that come out of the session. In this way, the “folks at home”-whether that means sales personnel in the field or senior executives at headquarters-can hear what their customers have to say “in-person” instead of on paper.

3. Brand Champion Focus Groups

In this approach, brand fans talk to nonbelievers. It’s an innovative and excellent way to learn the language and priorities that women bring to your brand. Find a group of women who love your brand, and put them in a room with people who either haven’t heard of it or are predisposed against it. Give them a little time to get to know each other. This is important because without some points of commonality, your enthusiasts won’t have a feel for where to start or what to emphasize.

After some time together, switch the group dynamic from “tell me” to “sell me.” Ask your brand champions to talk about how they heard about the product, why they tried it, and what happened the first time they used it. Let the “prospects” ask questions and raise objections-and listen to how your advocates answer. This insider’s look at women’s word of mouth will help you develop marketing communications content and approaches that are compelling and on point with the reality of women’s interactions with your brand. In effect, your group will tell you how to overcome resistance to your product or service.

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