by: Geoff Ficke

The Importance of Focus Groups and Their Alternatives
To Consumer Product Marketers and Entrepreneurs

My Consumer Product Development and Marketing Consulting firm offers a variety of services to clients. One that we frequently utilize, and is often misunderstood is the creation and management of Focus Groups. What is a Focus Group? What is the real purpose of a Focus Group? How much do they cost to organize? Can a novice Marketer organize a worthwhile Focus Group?

There are numerous evaluation metrics that Marketing professionals utilize to measure Focus Group results. A Focus Group should ideally consist of randomly chosen, anonymous participants that are selected for participation in the class because they have proven a need for the product being tested. Typically we utilize a small call-to-action newspaper advertisement to announce the formation of a Focus Group, the purpose of the Focus Group and how to become a class member.

As prospective participants phone to seek information and express interest, we ask pre-written questions to screen for suitability. If we are running a Focus Group on a Hair Care product we will not need the participation of bald people. We create an ideal demographic profile to be utilized when screening potential participants in the class. If the phone interview is positive, we invite the caller to meet at a specified time and place.

The initial meeting provides a final opportunity to confirm that the applicant is a suitable class participant. There are always a small percentage of prospects that simply are not right for inclusion and the reasons run the gamut. This screening is more art than science.

The Focus Group managers will be seeking a certain class size to confirm product assumptions. Once that population is in hand the actual test can begin. Remember, there will always be a number of members of the starting class that will drop participation for various reasons so allow for this reality when assembling the group.

The Questionnaire is crucial to managing a successful Focus Group. It should serve to guide the class to provide accurate, truthful answers about their experience with the subject product. The document should contain a variety of questions that may address product features and benefits, competition, shopping channels, pricing, likes/dislikes, etc. If the Focus Group will require product usage over time, say 30 days, there will be an entry and exit Questionnaire.

After the initial questionnaire is completed the product is demonstrated and usage training provided if required. If we are managing a Focus Group on a Skin Care Regimen, and the program has unique application features, we will train the participants in a rote manner. Remember, any attempt to pre-ordain the outcome will invalidate the goal of achieving an unbiased product evaluation. After training and product application, the class members are given the necessary supply of the product being tested for home usage.

The product sample itself should be as unadorned as possible. If we are studying the play features of a Board Game, obviously the game elements must be complete. For most consumable consumer products we will provide samples in plain lab sample bottles.

When the Focus Group chronology has been completed, and the exit interviews and final questionnaires collated, we analyze the results. Our questionnaires typically ask for a waiver so that we may use positive comments from class participants as testimonials in Sales Collateral, Point-of-Purchase Display, Publicity Releases and Web-sites.

What is the purpose of the Focus Group? There are courses and books written on this subject. Simply put, Focus Group managers are seeking the affirmation—OR—the disavowal of the assumptions that the product concept is built upon. The reality of proceeding to launch a Consumer Product with either faulty or overly affirmative consumer responses can, and usually does, lead to product failure in the marketplace.

What will a Focus Group cost? There are testing firms that conduct Focus groups on a grand scale for multi-national companies. These tests can run well into six figures. Depending on the size of the class, the intricacy of the product, availability of class space, advertising costs in a market and whether an incentive gift is given to participants the cost of a test can vary from $2000 up.

Can a self-marketer manage a Focus group? Yes, but only if they can be truly agnostic in assembling the class and the test structure. This is usually too difficult for the originator of a product or concept as they are too emotionally tied to their idea.

There is a good bit of mythology about Focus Groups and their outcomes. Most major Consumer Product manufacturers utilize Focus Groups before spending millions of dollars to perfect, Market, Brand, promote and launch a new item. Many of these products still fail or enjoy a short shelf life. Some of these failures are titanic.

Are there alternatives to Focus Group testing? Yes! I self-marketed products for many years without ever utilizing a Focus Group. Sam Walton, Charles Revson, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Robert Loewy, Herbert Lay and many other entrepreneurial giants utilized only their instincts to create novel, ground breaking Consumer Products and services. An informal group of trusted friends, family members and co-workers, if asked the right questions, can obviate the need for a formal Focus Group.

A successful Focus Group can often be an important underwriting element for obtaining Venture Capital investment. A well written Business Plan with strong Financials, an exciting Executive Summary, strong Branding and customized Marketing Strategy is absolutely essential when seeking investors. The inclusion of a properly organized Focus Group report with a positive result in the Exhibits section is often the cherry on the investment sundae.

If there are any Entrepreneurs, Inventors or small businesses wishing to attempt to organize a self-managed Focus Group please contact us at We will be glad to forward a sample questionnaire that they can utilize as a template to customize as needed for their project.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.