How much does it cost to do in-person focus groups?

So, you want to conduct some focus groups but you’re not sure how much they will set you back. The short answer is, it depends – but there are some guidelines you can use to help you develop a ballpark cost.

The first thing you need to determine is how many respondents you will need to talk to and in how many locations. As a rule of thumb, groups of 6 to 8 respondents are more productive than groups of 8 or more. I’m also a fan of triads or three respondents per group. Smaller groups are easier for moderators to manage, you can cover more ground during the group, and all participants are more motivated to contribute.

Let’s start with the hard costs, which are easy to compare across facilities.

Facility fees, recruiting and incentives are the bulk of your hard costs.

A good quality research facility will have a day rate of around $2,000. Facilities can also be rented on a half-day basis or hourly if those options are better suited to your needs. If you are conducting groups in multiple markets, you can typically get a discounted rate if you book multiple locations from the same research partner. An added benefit to this is the ability to work with one facility project manager who will coordinate the groups across all locations.

A good budget to use for recruiting and incentives for consumers is around $250 per respondent; however, the incidence rate will have a big impact on recruiting fees. Expect recruiting fees to increase if your product or category is not widely used or if you are recruiting using a segmentation typing tool. I typically budget for one extra person per group to allow for no-shows, late respondents, or last-minute respondent emergencies – in other words, recruit 7 people for 6 to show.

Recruiting and incentives for professionals can be as high as $500 or more depending on the type (e.g., doctors; bankers; etc.) and level (e.g., CEOs) of professionals you are looking for. You will also need to factor in the days and times they are available when planning your groups. For example, many dental offices are closed on Fridays, making it a great day to schedule dentists and hygienists, and most professionals are easier to recruit for groups held at lunchtime or in the evening.

You may want to consider budgeting for videos and/or transcripts of the groups, and most facilities can provide estimates for these services.

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Professional costs can vary greatly.

I got my start in moderating more than 20 years ago, and it was completely by accident. I was out on a 3-day project, sitting in the back room as we tested new ad campaigns. The moderator did such a terrible job on the first day that the client fired him at the end of the evening. Somehow, I was picked to moderate the next two days of groups, with the following resounding vote of confidence: He can’t possibly do any worse than the guy we just fired! The rest, as they say, is history.

My point is that you can have the best facilities and respondents, but your groups are doomed if you don’t have the right moderator. They will lead the process from the screener to the discussion guide to the final report, so the success of your project is really in their hands. Choose wisely.

Rates for moderators can vary greatly, with some charging by the group and others by the total project. The group schedule will impact the moderator’s fees; for example, they will vary if you’re conducting a total of six focus groups over two days versus three days.

Multiple respondent types (e.g., users versus non-users, consumers versus professionals) will result in a more complex screener and multiple discussion guides, resulting in additional costs. But don’t cut corners on the screener to save money – a loose screener can mean a respondent pool that can’t give you the depth of feedback that you are paying for.

And remember that a discussion guide is meant to be just that – a guide, not a script. Spending hours having the moderator add every possible question or probe to the guide not only add needless cost to the process but can also limit the natural flow of the group discussion.  

Set clear expectations for the type of report and level of detail that you require. Report writing fees will differ if your respondent pool is homogenous (all product/category users, for example) compared to a report that compares differences between respondent types. Make sure you communicate your expectations for verbatim comments as well, as they add a substantial amount of time to the development of the final report.

Don’t be afraid to have respondents do some homework.

I’m a fan of having consumers do some sort of homework prior to groups. Homework can consist of keeping a diary, preparing a collage, or taking photos that will give you a glimpse into the product or category that you are studying.

For example, a company that designs children’s furniture wanted to understand what problems they could solve for parents. We asked respondents to take photos of their children’s rooms prior to the groups. Respondents showed and described the photos during the groups, which led to much richer discussions about the need for more and better storage solutions – particularly for story books. It turned out that parents looked forward to reading to their children at bedtime, and a lost book quickly turned a nice moment into a stressful one. The ultimate solution: Book storage built into the footboard of the bed!

I’ve even had men bring the contents of their underwear drawer to groups, but that’s a story better told over a beer…

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