Focus groups are a great way to gain insights from your audience, they can serve as the first step to developing business cases, gaining results at the end of campaigns or just checking in on your audience.

In a benefits capacity, they can be used to -

  • Get feedback for introducing new services such as websites or new benefits
  • Understanding where education needs to take place for instance with pension freedom options
  • Managing change such as provider switching

Whatever your motivation, following these steps will ensure you're well on your way to a successful focus group.


Work out your goals

Before anything, you need to work out what you want from the Focus Group. Are you ratifying new website designs? Working out how best to communicate to a group? Understanding your target audience better? 

It’s really important to be clear and set your goals as this will guide you on the right track from the off!


Define your target audience

Now that you’ve set your goals, you should have a clear idea of the audience you want to target. Demographics to consider are:

Gender / Age / Job role / Relationship status / Income range / Interests / Location

You can be as broad or as targeted as you like, it’s really all down to what you want to achieve. Adding detailed criteria will give you richer data but will make recruiting participants more difficult, but not impossible!


Reaching out to your participants

This can be the most difficult part. Unless you’ve hit the jackpot and your prospective participants all sign up within 10 minutes of communicating (dream on!), you may have to incentivise the process. A voucher, free trial of the product or FOOD can be great ways of getting people to sign up. 

Make sure your communication is targeted, clear, simple and engaging. A few small details like date, time and location will suffice. It’s all about getting their attention. 

The ideal size for a focus group is around 10-15 people. This will give you a good spread of people and give all participants a chance to speak their mind.


Designing the questions

One of the main aims should be to stimulate rich conversations, so steer clear of closed questions and keep them open. Ratings can be good to get simple and powerful statistics on how people feel about something, but make sure you follow that up with a question that probes further into why they gave that answer.  These also provide greats stats that you can report back on and hopefully see a % increase in vital areas. 

The amount of questions does all depend on your the subject matter and the time you have allocated for the session, but keep them simple and to the point. If you go off track, people will lose interest. 


Running the session

Whatever the subject matter, you can always make it fun for the participants! Make sure the session is interactive and fast paced, this will keep people engaged, which will give you the best results. 

You ideally want a moderator and an assistant. The moderator will facilitate the discussion which leaves the assistant with the important job of recording the session, taking notes and making sure things are running to time. 

One of my pet peeves, are unoriginal icebreakers. Be a bit different! They can be as obscure as you like, or you can use this to get to know your audience even better. 

At the end of the session make sure the participants know how valuable their answers have been, and how the results will eventually benefit them. Thank them individually and send them away with the leftover biscuits. 



This is the exciting part - seeing the hard work come to life in raw data. Open up Excel, input all the answers including transcription of any recordings. Make sure you’ve captured all answers however positive or negative, it will all help shape how you move forward with the project. 

Make sure you’ve got clear categories and you can filter the demographics you set out, pull out key insights and devise a report outlining the major findings. 



Running focus groups will give you invaluable audience intelligence. So many projects fail due to a lack of understanding of the audience and blindspots that go unnoticed when you and your colleagues have been immersed in the subject matter.

Over the last year we used Focus Groups to help build our Retirement Options Planner. Designed to be an easy to use tool to show where an employee is currently at with their retirement plans. Listening to the viewpoints of a wide range of different people who are approaching retirement has enabled us to build a solution that is truly fit for purpose. 


We have also used Focus Groups with an existing FTSE 100 client. As the pensions communication partner, it’s imperative we understand their employees and the communication techniques  that work for them - as every workforce is different. It helps us with ‘the now’ and throws out interesting trends for the future to keep us one step ahead. 

So be clear on your goals, target your market, design an engaging and concise session, analyse the data fully and produce a report to take forward.

By David Pugh - Managing Partner

David Pic.png