Office of Strategic Marketing & Branding







Why (and when) to leverage focus groups

April 29, 2021
Market research

Surveys are a great tool for collecting large amounts of data from your audience, but they do have limitations and don’t always gather the depth of information you’re after. This is where focus groups can be extremely beneficial. 

There are generally two ways that focus groups can be used as part of a market research strategy: 

The first is to conduct focus groups prior to launching a survey. This helps us to determine what key topics and questions to include in the survey. Sometimes we know what the issues are that we need to ask about on a survey and don’t need to conduct this initial research. Other times it really is a “we don’t know what we don’t know” situation, so we need the focus groups to identify those starting points for us.

When you start with focus groups, it's good to ask very broad questions (e.g., Tell me why you chose your major, or Talk to me about communication within your unit) so that the moderator can really dig in to figure out what the critical topics and concerns are. From there we can determine which topics need to be investigated further via a survey.

The second way is to conduct the focus groups after the surveys. In surveys, respondents often limit their open-end-question responses to only high-level explanations of an issue. Follow-up interviews or focus groups give us the opportunity to engage with respondents and get more detail about their answers. Or, after you’ve come up with potential resolutions to issues identified in the surveys, you can review proposed solutions within the focus groups to see how well they are received. This gives you the opportunity to validate your assumptions and ensure that solutions will address the identified issues and challenges.

Whichever research approach is the best fit for your needs, the Office of Strategic Marketing & Branding can help you build out projects and develop a market research strategy that will provide your unit with the data necessary to make strategic decisions. Send me an email if you'd like to talk more about your needs and options. (sjs2407@illinois.edu)