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How data-driven personas perfectly complement focus groups

Focus groups have become an integral part of market research, product development and marketing. However, many people who do not deal with the subject on a daily basis confuse them with target groups. Find out here what focus groups are, why you need them and how data-driven personas complement them perfectly.

Target group vs. focus group

A target group is a group of people who have common characteristics, interests or needs. In marketing and communication, a target group is specifically addressed in order to effectively advertise or communicate products or messages and increase the likelihood of a positive response. In order to design targeted and efficient marketing strategies, it is important to identify the target group precisely and to know it well.

A focus group, on the other hand, is a qualitative research method in which a small group of usually 6-12 participants come together under the guidance of a moderator to openly discuss specific topics or products. These people should belong to the target group of the product to be discussed. Through the free interaction and discussion in the group, researchers can gain deep insights into the opinions, attitudes and perceptions of the participants. Focus groups are often used in the areas of market research and product development as well as for social science studies.

The focus group method was developed by the sociologist Robert K. Merton. In 1941, in collaboration with the Office of Radio Research, he conducted one of the first focus groups to discuss participants' opinions on a radio program. Merton thus revolutionized social research and marketing. Today, many successful campaigns are based on focus groups, such as Barack Obama's presidential campaign or the design and product development of Starbucks.

A moderator guides the discussion in the focus group and through open questions. The moderator must be neutral so that the participants can freely express their opinions, thoughts and feelings about a product, a service, a political party or whatever is the subject of the research. The discussions are documented, transcribed and carefully analyzed.

Focus groups have some decisive advantages over other methods of market and social research:

  • They provide very rich, in-depth data and insights into the motivation and beliefs of the participants. Because the participants can say what they want, focus groups are qualitatively much more productive than surveys.
  • Focus groups are more cost-effective than individual interviews, which are more time-consuming and resource-intensive.
  • Focus groups are quick and easy to organize and provide immediate feedback, unlike questionnaires, which have to be evaluated first, or individual interviews, which have to be correlated. They are therefore particularly advantageous for fast-moving or highly competitive industries.
  • Focus groups are a good way of capturing complex dynamics. They even allow you to explore at first hand how consensus or conflict arises, as the participants not only express their opinions, but also respond to the statements of others.

However, as always in life, there is also a flip side to the coin with focus groups, because:

  • The moderators are also only human. Although they are supposed to act neutrally, they may (even unconsciously) favor some points of view over others and steer the moderation accordingly. This can lead to inaccurate or misleading results. To counter this, the moderators should be trained. It also makes sense for an impartial party to review the recordings of the meetings to assess the extent of influence by the moderators and ensure the integrity of the data. However, this increases the effort involved.
  • Focus groups provide wonderfully complex data, but this is precisely why analyzing them is very time-consuming. In addition, the interpretation of qualitative data is subjective and can vary from analyst to analyst, which can lead to distortions. AI can be helpful here.
  • There could be "groupthink" within the focus group. This is a psychological phenomenon where individuals in a group tend to align themselves with the prevailing opinions or viewpoints. This can create an artificially unified viewpoint that leads to distorted or incomplete results. Groupthink is particularly problematic when dealing with sensitive or controversial issues where participants fear social condemnation or ostracism if they express dissenting views. The neutrality of the moderator is particularly important here.
  • The sample is very small. 6-12 participants do not represent society or any kind of target group. The insights gained in a focus group may therefore not represent the diversity of opinions and experiences that prevail in the wider population. It is therefore possible to derive in-depth clues from focus groups, but certainly not to draw conclusions about the mood of the general public.

Focus groups therefore provide very deep insights into the thoughts of a small group of people. Surveys with standardized questionnaires, on the other hand, provide representative insights, albeit not very deep ones. So the best thing researchers can do is to create a combination of both.

data-driven personas and focus groups

This is where personas come into play: data-driven personas As "living" representatives of a target group, personas offer the in-depth insights of focus groups and combine them with the reliable representativeness of large surveys. The personas from the Persona Institute are based on several million data points that are collected quarterly and are therefore always up to date. data-driven personas are deep AND representative. They are also less prone to bias as they do not depend on human moderators or analysts. They include large-scale surveys, interviews, social media insights, public statistics, internal company data, representative studies, analytics data, etc.

With data-based personas, you can check existing focus groups for representativeness - in other words, in the best case scenario, validate or falsify the results from your focus groups scientifically and based on data. If you have not yet conducted any focus groups or your company does not have the capacity to do so, then you are on the safe side with data-based personas. We will be happy to advise you.

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