Schools Training

The Pros and Cons of Focus Groups

20 NOV 2012
Career Path : Business

For any system to function as efficiently and as accurately as possible, it needs to incorporate a method of acquiring feedback on its performance. The standard example of this form of feedback is a captain steering a ship: the captain wants to turn the ship several degrees in one direction, he spins his steering wheel a certain amount of times, and then receives feedback from a mate as to how accurately the ship’s turn achieved his intended direction. If he overshoots his turn, he will know to steer to a smaller degree next time, and vice versa. This system of action and information feedback is known as cybernetics, which comes from the ancient Greek word kybernetes, which literally means ‘to steer.’


A business is no exception to this kind of feedback-based system. When a new product is set to launch, a company gathers data on how well it succeeds in market sales, and then uses that data to decide on continuing, changing, or discontinuing that product. This part of business is the territory of marketing. Marketing does not only concern itself with products that are already on the market, and finding new ways to promote and sell such a product, but also focuses on testing new products and services.


When studying to earn a business marketing diploma, one learns about the many ways marketers decide on how, where, and to whom to market a new product. One of the most common ways to do this is the focus group: taking a small group of random people and exposing them to the product to gauge their reactions. Focus groups can work by directly engaging the participants with the product, letting the participants engage with several similar products for uninhibited comparisons, or even to avoid direct engagement with the product but use more general questions and activities to understand the participants commercial needs and desires, who in this case stand in for the market.



– Working with groups of people who represent different demographics and backgrounds

– There is no commitment so participants feel free to give honest responses and reactions

– Good focus group leaders know how to judge not only verbal responses but other cues like body language, and this might offer more subconscious reactions

– Although focus groups may be looking for certain responses, unexpected results may give marketing teams new ideas



– Participants might feel obliged to give more interesting or original answers that do not truly reflect their feelings

– Strong-voiced participants may influence the responses of more passive participants

– The environment is controlled, and thus somewhat artificial, which may hinder more natural reactions

– Focus group leaders may lead participants towards certain desired responses


Marketing courses cover and compare all different kinds of focus groups, form company-led sessions to independent third-party focus group sessions, and today, even online focus groups. Being aware of how they work, and where they may fail is a key aspect of successful marketing. If information is power, then information feedback is marketing success.



Visit Mohawk College for more information on marketing programs.