Stephanie Kempton - “Interest is coming from the banking industry, politics, real estate and healthcare.”

Q. What is your company? Four years ago, I opened Kempton Research and Planning. I launched my Focus Sarasota focus-group facility in December. I provide full services, from developing discussion guides to recruiting respondents and providing analysis and reporting. Or other researchers can rent the facility, and I’m available to manage the recruitment process and handle the administration if they wish.

Q. What does it cost? About $6,000. But there are so many variables. A typical focus group includes six to eight people, and you conduct two sessions. The participant gets an incentive, typically $100 for a 90-minute session. For consumer groups, I have a database I recruit from. For business to business, often clients pass along participants with whom they have an existing relationship. If it’s hard to find the right participants, costs go up. I work with my clients to determine what they can do for the most value. Sometimes the client can conduct some of the interviews.

Q. What industry sectors are using Focus Sarasota? Interest is coming not only locally, but nationally, from the banking industry, politics, real estate and most recently healthcare. Locally, it’s primarily real estate—a client might have a concept for a community they are building, for example, and they want to speak with realtors and potential buyers. And not only new-concept communities, but existing ones they want to rebrand; what’s working and what’s not working. I also have local clients in consumer products and manufacturing.

Q. When are focus groups most useful? When it comes to learning more about key messages that resonate with key prospects. Maybe they’re trying to decide how to develop their packaging, the imagery, the actual messaging on the package. I speak with the client about who the best key prospect is and develop a profile based on age, sex, education. I develop screening questions about their lifestyle, motivations, attitudes; then I develop the group. There is no set template. Equally important is developing the discussion guide according to the client’s objectives. The client observes the group in real time (we stream it live on the Internet), and can provide immediate feedback to delve further into particular areas. You would not project focus group findings on a wider population; it’s not statistically significant information.

Q. Are clients usually surprised by the results of focus groups? Say you have a hypothetical organic baby food manufacturer. The company owner may be a male in his 50s. How does he think like a mother? Having a mother in the group and listening to her reactions provides insight into her world. What are the things she cares about when she buys that product? That’s the value; you see how a consumer is reacting before your company stands to gain or lose from that.

Q. Can you give us a real-life example of a focus group? In the past I was involved in focus group research with a local housewares manufacturer. Their marketing strategy had been more focused on the design of the product, or the way it looked. They used designs like flowers or shells on their product to drive the purchase decision, and the photography of the actual product with its various designs was prevalent in their advertising because they thought women might be buying it because it looked good on their table. When we conducted the research, we learned that, yes, how it looked was important, but more important was how the product actually worked.  These working benefits could not be seen to a consumer unfamiliar with the brand or product, so the insight was critical to informing advertising and packaging decisions, especially as the brand expanded nationally to new, lower awareness markets.

Q. Are people more honest in group settings? You can learn more in a focus group than one-on-one because people hear triggers. They say, “Oh yeah, that reminds me of something else.’ You can also quickly see levels of agreement and disagreement in group settings, which is valuable to the client. Focus groups are a small sample, but it’s a deep dive.

Q. If a small business can’t afford to conduct a focus group, how can they obtain customer feedback? That’s the question I always get asked. Secondary research—existing research that can help answer trend information on a certain industry, competitors’ and customers’ habits, behaviors or demographics—is very helpful, and there’s a lot of information available for free on the Internet that wasn’t available before. Think about who you think your key prospect is; be open to thinking like that person, not like yourself.

Q. What are out-of-state researchers interested in learning from Sarasota respondents? Affluent aging. For example, a banking company was interested in marketing its credit card to high-net-worth individuals. They wanted to know what should the benefits and features be; what would attract people of this caliber to get this card?

 Q. What’s the danger for companies that don’t listen to their customers? Making the wrong decisions that can significantly affect their bottom line.

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