Ever hear this pitch for your communications planning: “No problem, we’ll conduct a focus group and you’ll have all your answers, pronto!”

Whoa. Let’s hope you never do. If so, you’d better wave a red flag.

Focus groups are designed for one major purpose: to help provide a snapshot of thoughts and perspectives that can assist you in further strategization. Focus groups are not intended to provide you with a final concrete answer for which everything will be based on.

Five tips you need to know about focus groups:

1. Focus groups work well when they are utilized during development phases of your messaging, rather than the beginning. Why? Because a focus group enables you to test behaviours and reactions to several proposed ideas and messages.

2. Consider focus groups to be just one of many available data collection tools available. Other methods may be surveys, polls, open houses, target-specific group meetings, public meetings, published research, etc.

3. A focus group of, say, 15 people can never be interpreted as being representative of a large population.

4. Approach focus groups as conducting a test (which of course, they are). You will get a variety of scores. Some failures. Some near perfection. When you are preparing to launch a product, message or program, that’s exactly what you want for proper pre-launch evaluation.

5. Consider videotaping your focus group. You’ll be surprised what expressions and behaviours you missed while conducting the group in person. Seeing these upon video review can be invaluable in either reaffirming what you experienced live, or only add to your final evaluation of messaging tested during the focus group.