Ipsos Encyclopedia - Focus Group

Type of qualitative research that consists of structured discussion of a particular topic with a small number of selected participants (usually 5-9) (8 to 10 in the US).


The discussion is guided by a skilled moderator who does not influence the outcome, but ensures that all the subject areas are discussed by the group and the views of the participants are as clear as possible. The length depends on the subject matter being discussed, e.g. complex subjects may be better discussed in 3 to 4 hours, whereas more simple ones in 2 hours.

Focus groups were initially developed in the 1940s. Focus groups, like other small group methods, is a qualitative research method. Qualitative methods are used to understand a topic in depth, rather than to simply count the number of people who said or did something as is done in quantitative methods.

Focus groups use an interactive process to generate insights. In each focus group, a group of people are asked about their attitudes or experiences on a specific topic or area of interest. Responses are formed, changed, and responded to among individuals in the group.  Each focus group is intended to be very interactive. 

Participants are usually pre-screened to ensure a relative homogeneity within each group. A minimum of 2 focus groups is required for each target, in order to provide robustness to the results.

Focus groups are suitable for any topic where deeper understanding is desired (for instance: analysing representations (cultural contexts around a product category, brand image, collective reactions to new concepts or communication ideas)).

The collective dynamics create participants' engagement, allowing them to confront their point of views and go to a deeper level of expression of their motivations and needs. Through interacting with others, participants may change their attitudes or opinions or may develop solutions that would not have arisen from one-on-one interaction between an individual participant and the researcher.

Focus groups create the perfect platform for projective techniques, which allow, through indirect questions and games (personification, collage, analogies, etc.), to understand both conscious and non-conscious motivations.

Focus groups are a relevant option:

  • To create a natural dynamic in a group of participants
  • To show stimulus material

Focus groups can be used at any point in a job when greater insight into a topic or issue is needed. For example, you might use a SGM early in the job to understand key issues about your topic. You might use a SGM during your job to collect key opinions for a research question, or you might use one at the end of your job to better understand relationships observed in quantitative data – sometimes researchers say that quantitative data provide you the "what" and qualitative data, such as those obtained from a SGM, provide you with the "why."

Ipsos Point Of View

​Ipsos has developed different variants based on focus groups principles :

e.g. Krisis, a specific protocol, based on conflict between sub-groups with opposite attitudes.

  • 9 participants, divided in 3 triads of 3 people with specific attitude

  • 2 moderators, using a lot of games inspired by reality TV

Krisis brings 2 specific benefits:

  • AUTHENTICITY: Pushes the consumer to express heartfelt thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, and contradictions. Through the segmented composition of the group and the moderators' role as catalysts, Krisis reveals true expressions faster.
  • DEPTH: Uncovers hidden opinions, non-politically correct attitudes. Krisis brings a dynamic that is genuinely different from more conformist qualitative group techniques. With Krisis, all the participants are asked to become real actors. 

Best case studies

​Below are some very brief examples of where focus groups have been used:

  • An oil company testing its ads/messages regarding its position on global warming.
  • A management consulting firm looking to improve its recruiting process and increase its attractiveness to recruits.
  • A major league baseball team looking to increase its attendance among "casual fans".
  • A national bank developing a financial literacy program for middle school students.
  • A real estate development corporation testing messages regarding a land use ballot initiative.
  • A corporate 50 company looking to inform its corporate reputation model – assess attitudes, expectations and issues that affect company reputation.
  • A non-profit association looking to build support for non-nuclear proliferation.
  • A major trade association/interest group looking to increase its membership and improve it communications publications.
  • A major trade association/interest group examining sentiment on specific immigration issues.
  • A transportation partnership testing messages/concepts/names for its new metro line (Yup, the Silver Line).
  • A trade association testing ads/messages for its new brand positioning strategy.
  • A government agency testing awareness of the auto recall process and the role of NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration).
  • A government agency looking to improve its staffing and training policies.
  • A government agency examining financial literacy among low-proficiency English speakers.
  • A government agency looking to improve its staffing and training policies.
  • A government agency pursuing a possible anti-trust case against a major Internet company.
  • A government agency looking to improve the post natural disaster emergency loan process for small businesses.

Consumer & Shopper