Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) has conducted a number of focus groups for our clientele in the past.  We do this by either using our onsite focus group facility in Upstate NY (QualiSight) or by travelling to other areas outside of Central NY, depending on the location of the client and/or their customers.  We see all types of focus group participants through our efforts. 

After you’ve been doing this type of market research for a while, some reoccurring themes of participant personalities develop from group to group.  As our most experienced moderator Mark Dengler (President of RMS) will tell you, being able to manage and keep a focus group on-task is hard work.  It takes years of experience and you continually need to adjust depending on the dynamics of the group.  Having a skilled and experienced focus group moderator in place is a must. With that in mind, the right focus group moderator can manage any type of participant who walks into the room. So the Research Bunker collaborated, had some fun, and came up with the following commonly seen personalities in a focus group, and in good taste, we tell how a good moderator handles them.

1) “The Superstar” – this is the participant who knows all and tells all, chiming in at every opportunity during the focus group.  He or she believes this focus group was created for them, is about them, and no one else matters.  They offer good information throughout, but their presence is dominating and biasing the group.

Moderator Tip(s): Tell them you appreciate their thoughts and that the feedback they have provided to this point is valuable; however you would also like to hear from other focus group participants.

2) “The Overachiever” – this is the participant who comes to the focus ‘too well prepared.’  They are usually accompanied with notes on the topic at hand, a notebook of complaints, a flow chart of improvements, or even a new product prototype they built themselves. 

Moderator Tip(s): Tell them while you appreciate their time and thoughts going into this group, we’d rather not let anyone bring materials into the group itself.  However, we will still take your notes/diagrams and will consider them when we write the report.

3) “The ‘Where’s My Money’ Guy/Girl” – this is the participant who steps through the door of the facility lobby and begins asking about the stipend.  They confirm how much they are paid, how it will be dispersed and whether they want two $20 bills and a $10 bill or one $20 bill and three $10 bills.  This same concern is brought up at least once or twice during the actual focus group as well.

Moderator Tip(s): Make it clear at the time of arrival that stipends will be paid following the conclusion of the group and whether they will be cash/check or gift cards.

4) “The Ax Grinder” – this is the participant who believes it is their duty to not only get under the skin of the moderator, but also every other focus group participant in the room.  If they could provoke the viewers behind the one-way mirror, they would do that too. They play devil’s advocate to every opinion given and will stop at nothing to create an unpleasant couple of hours for all involved.

Moderator Tip(s): It’s best to identify this profile early (preferably in the focus group recruit) and stifle the problem before it grows into a bigger issue and affects the group.  If the Ax Grinder doesn’t show his/her true identity until the group is underway, it’s best to have them paid (although unwillingly) and removed.

5) “The Doormat” this is the target that fuels the Ax Grinder.  This participant is generally quiet and non-opinionated in fear of others disagreeing with their thoughts.  When the Doormat does finally get around to offering an opinion and another participant disagrees, the Doormat shuts down completely.

Moderator Tip(s): Make it very clear in the beginning of the group that there is no right or wrong answer.  Encourage this participant to voice their opinion no matter what, get them involved, if you see them agreeing or disagreeing with another’s comments (nodding their head/shaking their head), follow-up to them.  This participant is a major reason why RMS uses a participation packet in every focus group, which allows respondents to record their thoughts on paper.

6) “The One Shining Moment Participant” – this is a relatively quiet participant who tends to agree or disagree with the majority.  It’s the participant who offers nothing more than a “yeah, it’s okay” or “no, I don’t like it.”  Then, all of a sudden this participant gives the client, the moderator and the rest of the group a golden nugget of information.  The type of verbatim comment that Research Analysts across the globe dream of for their qualitative report.  And after that, the participant reverts to the depths of normality. 

Moderator Tip(s): Get this person involved early and often.  There is most likely more that he/she has to offer.  If the moment doesn’t happen until the tail-end of the group, make sure you follow-up and expand on the comment with the participant before the time has passed.

7) “The Over-indulger” – the name explains the persona, this is the participant who is more interested in the food, snacks and refreshments than the discussion.  This participant gets up multiple times, disrupting the group momentum (also including bathroom breaks).  This participant is also known to utilize his/her pockets to their advantage on the way out.

Moderator Tip(s): Explain that while participants are free to help themselves, ask them to wait for a break in the focus group or while participants are working on their packets during the intermissions.

As stated previously, work with your recruitment team to help them find the right mix of participants.  Certain precautions can be taken to put together the appropriate mix of respondents for qualitative research, but that is a blog post for another day.

There you have it, 7 fairly common focus group personalities.  Each of these requires a different level of attention from a focus group moderator.  If you do enough focus groups, perhaps you will run into some of these participants someday, or perhaps you already know a few. 

Interested in focus group moderator services in Syracuse, NY?  Looking for a focus group facility in Syracuse, NY?  Visit out QualiSight website by clicking here.

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