Conducting Effective Focus Groups Through Storytelling

Focus groups can give companies tremendous insight into customer attitudes and perceptions regarding the company, the user experience of its products and services, and new ideas. This market research tool provides valuable information for small and large businesses alike, helping to determine how to target specific demographic groups and their needs and desires. The need for a focus group arises when a business wants to understand an issue at a deeper level than what is accessible with a survey. Businesses use focus groups to go beyond quantitative data and understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a topic.

Delving into how customers feel about a brand and the products/services customers choose involves a complex set of factors. These factors could include brands their parents used, what they see the people around them use, their perception of the brand, and their personal experience with it. Each of these factors have their own context that is unique to the individual which can be best understood through story. By using focus groups to gather customer narratives, the market research can go beyond artificial and vague answers to glean underlying themes with real marketing applications.


Focus groups have the ability to elicit the raw feelings and emotions of a customer in relation to a business’ products and services in a way other market research methods do not. Giving customers an open space to share their stories can trigger responses that provide insight into their fears, wishes, hopes and personal experiences. Sociologist, Brene Brown, regarded stories as “data with a soul” that provide an awareness of the customers much deeper than if they prefer ‘option A’ or ‘option B’.

Storytelling in focus groups also implies that each participant’s account is individual and personal which takes a weight off of them as they do not feel expected to answer in a particular manner. When the participants realize that their answers are subjective, they know that there is not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ response and can avoid some of the pressures to go a certain direction with their answers. If participants are hesitant to go into depth and share their stories, moderators can probe for further information with follow up questions like “can you tell me more about that?” or “could you explain a time where you experienced that issue?”. Moderators of focus groups can encourage participants to share their personal narrative through explaining the purpose of the group, expectations, establishing an open and respectful environment, and remaining neutral throughout the discussion.


Real-life stories from customers about how they behave and what they feel has real-life results for companies. The Kimberly-Clark Huggies brand used customers’ stories to understand the issues parents faced undergoing potty-training with their children. The stories revealed the diapering challenges parents were battling as their toddlers were transitioning to going to the bathroom on the toilet. Diapers were what they were trying to move away from and underwear is what they were trying to move towards, but there was not an in-between product. Along with the logistics of dealing with accidents in underwear or pulling on/off diapers to use the toilet, parents were amidst the stress of feelings of failure when their peers were asking “your child is still in diapers?!”

After hearing narratives that expressed these issues, the team of researchers realized that parents viewed diapers to signify a particular stage of child development and the toddlers themselves were more prone to accidents in diapers as they were used to being able to go to the bathroom in them. The company was inspired by the deeper meaning of diapers to introduce Huggies Pull-Ups training pants in 1989. This product has found lasting success with their 2015 sales reported at $621 million.

Placing customers’ stories front and center in market research proves that their opinions and experiences are valued. Focus groups that encourage sharing of customer narratives can effectively show a business what the wants and needs of their market are and provide inspiration on how to best address them.

Magic Flight Studios can help your company gather key insights on your customers through story. Contact us here.


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