Testing reality of focus groups

Having used focus groups extensively to build knowledge of the over-50s market, I concur with Debbie Carne (Letters, MW July 21) when she says they should not be treated as a universal research medium. But her belief that experienced moderators can discriminate between what people say in a forum and what they actually do is misleadingly dangerous.

We have found numerous occasions when older groups say one thing, yet do another. In focus groups, mature consumers are frequently passionately aggressive towards particular types of communication. It would take a moderator with superhuman powers to deduce that the cynicism expressed did not translate into reality. Focus groups often mean what they say even if actions belie it.

For instance, focus groups of older demographics will say they will not be bribed to make purchases through promotions. Premiums are frequently referred to as “trinkets”. But reality is very different. Small premiums with perceived high value work very well with the over-50s.

However, a moderator would never be able to deduce this. It means that focus groups can be very useful for understanding consumer attitudes, but should never be used as a guide to behaviour. Nothing said in them can ever be trusted and must be thoroughly tested in other ways.

In the case of the over-50s market, this is doubly important because older demographics consider themselves marketing-aware and often

analyse the communication as well as the brand proposition. Added to the fact that most marketers have minimal knowledge of the sector, this means campaign testing is as important as consumer research.

Martin Smith

Managing director


Shipley, West Yorkshire

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here