Idea Validation: Problem, Product

Focus Group

Ask a group of selected participants about their opinions and preferences

Illustration of Focus Group
Run a Focus Group play

Difficulty: Intermediate

Evidence strength

Relevant metrics: Jobs to be done ranking, Ranking needs, wants, desires, pains, Quotes & stories

Validates: Desirability

How: Gather a group of potential customers in an informal setting and ask whether they would use a certain product or service and, if so, how they would use it.

Why: Even though people might say they would use your product, it isn't proof that they actually would. Focus groups can provide critical false positive answers. Instead, seek information about performed behaviors rather than said behaviors, actions rather than preferences.

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

Before the experiment

The first thing to do when planning any kind of test or experiment, is to figure out what you want to test. To make critical assumptions explicit, fill out an experiment sheet as you prepare your test. We created a sample sheet for you to get started. Download the Experiment Sheet.

What are focus groups?

A focus group experiment is a qualitative research method that gathers a small, diverse group of people to discuss and provide feedback on a particular topic, product, or concept.

It is primarly used in market research, social sciences, and other fields to gather in-depth information about people’s perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes.

It typically involves a small group of participants, usually around 6 to 10 people, who are selected based on their relevance to the research topic. The group is led by a moderator who facilitates a structured yet flexible discussion on a specific set of topics. The primary goal of a focus group is to generate rich, qualitative data by encouraging interactive discussions among the participants, making it a valuable tool for exploratory research.

The participants in a focus group are chosen to represent a particular demographic, psychographic, or other defined group pertinent to the research question. They bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the discussion, which can uncover insights that might not be obtained through other research methods like surveys. The discussion in a focus group is guided by a series of questions or prompts prepared by the researcher. These questions are designed to be open-ended to encourage participants to share their thoughts and feelings freely, allowing the conversation to flow naturally and delve deeply into the subject matter.

Tips for runing focus groups in a poduct discovery setting

Opinions over facts

In the lean startup world, Focus Groups are often criticized for devolving into groupthink. Team dynamics in groups tend to bring forward the opinions of the most extrovert group members who dominate the discussion and in turn distort the outcome.

This is why you want to be careful what you use Focus Groups for.

Reveal consumer prefernce

You might not be able to extract facts about consumer behavior from focus groups – some claim they only reveal 5% of what goes on in our mind (95% is unconscious). However, they are great for revealing consumer preference. You need to assume consumers are not capable of accurately describing why they make decisions – only that they do.

Observe team dynamics

Focus Groups can also be used to understandthe dynamics behind group buying patterns and influences. They can be great for answering questions like how customers influence one another in a group setting. What they think and what are alternatives.

Are focus groups the right thing for you?

Consider whether you can achieve your goal easier with a Customer Discovery Interview or a Contextual Inquiry.

How do you run a focus group?

The first step in a focus group experiment is defining the objectives. Researchers determine what they need to learn from the focus group. This could be insights into consumer behavior, reactions to a new product, understanding of a campaign, or gathering opinions on a societal issue.

Selecting the right participants is crucial. They should represent the target demographic of the product or concept being tested. The recruitment process often involves screening participants to ensure a diverse yet relevant group is formed. The ideal number of participants usually ranges from 6 to 10.

A discussion guide is prepared, outlining the key topics and questions to be covered in the session. This guide helps the moderator steer the conversation while ensuring all relevant areas are explored.

The moderator plays a vital role in facilitating the discussion. They must encourage open and honest dialogue, manage group dynamics, keep the conversation on track, and probe deeper into interesting or relevant points raised by participants.

During the focus group, participants are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings about the topic at hand. The moderator uses the discussion guide but also remains flexible to follow the natural flow of conversation.

While the moderator leads the discussion, other team members may observe the session, either in person or through a one-way mirror or video recording. They take detailed notes and observe non-verbal cues and group dynamics.

After the focus group, the team analyzes the data. This involves reviewing transcripts, notes, and recordings to identify key themes, patterns, and insights. Advanced qualitative analysis software can be used to assist in coding and categorizing the data.

Reporting and Applying Insights: The findings are compiled into a report that highlights significant discoveries, patterns, and recommendations. These insights are then used to inform decision-making, whether for product development, marketing strategies, policy formulation, or other applications.

Often, the results of one focus group lead to additional questions or areas of interest. Researchers may conduct multiple focus groups, each time refining their approach based on previous feedback, to deepen their understanding of the topic.

Why use Focus groups in product research?

Focus groups are a qualitative research method used to explore participants’ attitudes, perceptions, and ideas about a product or service. This approach allows for in-depth discussion and interaction among group members, facilitated by a moderator. Focus groups can uncover not just what people think, but why they think that way, providing rich insights into consumer behavior, opinions, preferences, and potential product features.

The metrics for evaluation aim to measure the effectiveness of focus groups in generating meaningful insights, identifying consensus and divergent views, and fostering the development of new ideas. These insights are useful for refining product concepts, identifying user needs, and informing strategic decision-making.

After the experiment

To make sure you move forward, it is a good idea to systematically record your the insights you learned and what actions or decisions follow. We created a sample Learning Sheet, that will help you capture insights in the process of turning your product ideas successful. Download the Learning Sheet.


Women buy cars too

In the 1950s, Chrysler Plymouth struggled with sales of its convertible until focus groups indicated that it was wives–not husbands–choosing more sensible sedans over youthful exciting cars. Plymouth Chrysler adapted advertising to target women instead, increasing sales and giving the manufacturer a more family-friendly reputation. Ultimately this led to the realisation that women buy cars as much if not more than men, leading to a big change in the way cars are designed, branded and sold.

Source: Five focus groups the changed the world

World War II Propaganda

Considered one of the first instances of a focus group, sociologist Robert K. Merton used ‘focused interviews’ to examine the effectiveness of war propaganda in the US during World War II. This early use of focus groups provided valuable insights into the social and psychological effects of mass communications.

Source: Five focus groups the changed the world


In 2009, focus groups helped Domino’s Pizza identify major customer dissatisfaction with their product. This led to a new advertising campaign where the company openly admitted to its shortcomings and introduced an improved pizza, resulting in a significant sales increase.

Source: Five focus groups the changed the world

Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign

Focus groups played a crucial role in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. They found that including Obama’s voice in ads created a deeper connection with voters, influencing the campaign’s advertising strategy.

Source: Five focus groups the changed the world

Betty Crocker's Cake Mix

In the 1950s, Betty Crocker conducted focus groups to understand housewives’ feelings towards their instant cake mix. The feedback revealed that adding an egg made the baking process feel more involved, mitigating feelings of guilt associated with using the instant mix. This led to the revised “Add-an-Egg” cake mix, which saw a dramatic increase in sales.

Source: Famous Focus Group Research Throughout History

Betty Pepsi

In 1975, Pepsi conducted blind taste tests between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, leading to the successful “Pepsi Challenge” campaign that positioned Pepsi as the better-tasting cola.

Source: Famous Focus Group Research Throughout History

Betty Swiffer

Focus groups at Proctor & Gamble revealed consumer dissatisfaction with traditional mopping and cleaning products, leading to the development of the Swiffer, which became an instant hit and a household name.

Source: Famous Focus Group Research Throughout History


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