How To Succeed At Focus Groups Without Really Trying


Focus Groups. You’ve seen them on TV: a guy asks “regular” people to come into a room with a two-way mirror and sample a product or give opinions on some advertising. Maybe you’ve even done one.

I’ve done more of them. I promise. Beer. Chocolate. Cable TV. Shaving cream. You’ve eaten, seen or touched it? I probably helped market it and made a couple hundred bucks doing so. I keep getting this easy money because I used to work on the other side of that two-way mirror and know all the secrets. Now you can too. They’re great supplemental income for the young, artistic spirit.

First of all, you have to get on their lists. I started by hunting Craigslist. There are plenty of legitimate focus groups recruiting on there. If you are nervous, you can always ask for their company name and website. And even if you don’t get selected for that group, the company will keep your contact info for the next one.

Second, Google “focus groups.” These people are desperate for new people to test their products. Sign up for a few of them and wait for the invitations to roll in.

Next, realize that the people recruiting you are NOT the people who own the product. Let’s say Pepsi wants to test a new soda. They will hire a company that does focus groups for a living. These people are not Pepsi employees. These people are low-wage people paid to fill a room with people who say they like soft drinks. That’s it. So they call hundreds of people with a list of questions, given to them by Pepsi, to see if you qualify. If they contact you, they WANT you to qualify for the study. Desperately. The sooner they get that room filled, the sooner they get their flat fee from Pepsi.

So when they ask you questions to see if you qualify, pretend you are in their shoes. They can’t lie on their form and can’t speak for you but, if given an opportunity, they will likely help you answer correctly to fill their quota. So if you are unsure of a question, waffle. Take your time and say you are “both” options and see if they give you a nudge.

First questions are always the same: “Have you or any of your family or friends worked in the following industries?” Always say “no” to this question. They want to make sure you aren’t in marketing or their specific business. But listen to those other options because they can’t tell you specifically whom the focus group is for. But if they say, “Have you ever worked for a marketing company or a soft drink company?” you have a good sense that this is for soft drinks. Alternatively, if they don’t mention soft drinks but mention “a bank or financial institution” then you can assume the following questions will be about banking. Remember that.

They may ask you if have been in a focus group ever (or in the past six months). Always say “no.” They will never check and don’t want to check.

And the remaining questions are pretty easy to get through. When asked if you eat or drink a certain beverage, always say “yes.” If asked when you last tried it, they often give you multiple choices. Always pick the most recent (“in the past six weeks” or whatever). And if given a scale of 1 to 10, always do the “10.” You LOVE products!

Now, they start broad then narrow down. So they might ask if you’ve eaten granola bars recently (you say “yes”) and soft drinks (also “yes”). But then the next question will be something like: “You say you’ve had soft drinks in the past couple weeks…” This is your signal that the group and following questions will be on soft drinks. You can ignore or say “no” to other food groups.

Education and income are impossible to verify so say you graduated a four year college and make at least $75,000.

They also always ask you, “How open are you to trying new products?” This is a no-brainer. You are VERY open.

And they’ll ask if you are comfortable sharing your views and opinions. Are you shy or are you outgoing? You are VERY comfortable sharing and you are, coincidentally, very outgoing. Even if you aren’t, once you are in the room, it won’t matter.

Finally, the last question is usually something open ended. “If you could have dinner with one person, living or blah blah blah.” There is no wrong answer for this question and it has no bearing on the product. This is simply a tool they use to see if you are articulate and expressive. So you can say whatever you want, but use a big word or two, and talk more than less. This person only needs to check off “this respondent can speak coherently.” Just ramble a bit.

Good luck and have fun with your new money.

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image – Tax Credits