After the Focus Groups: Putting the Results in Action


You’ve carefully followed the how-to’s of conducting focus groups, and now you’re ready to run with what you’ve learned. This may also be combined with results from quantitative surveys. The findings summarized in your report may direct your communication plans, provide language for your promotional materials, or perhaps even influence your strategic plans. So it’s critically important how you summarize those findings. Apply the results carefully.

Remember, a focus group is not a statistically valid sample, so you should never walk away from a group with percentages or definitive results. Instead, look for the big ideas that emerged, along with the supporting insights. Identify broad common themes and use quotes from the participants to illustrate or elaborate. If it is helpful to quantify an identified theme, follow up with a survey.

To illustrate, we’ve collected some sample take-aways we’ve gained from focus groups. Points presented in a findings report provide a foundational understanding of the important values to consider in strategic planning and communications (internal information for university leadership). These same points can also be shaped into external marketing messages.

These examples are points presented in findings reports of various educational institutions where we’ve conducted focus groups (some have been revised for confidentiality):

  • In a focus group discussion about community, students explained that the investment of faculty and staff has motivated them to persevere in their callings and develop as leaders.

  • Several students told stories of faculty and staff who had personally reached out to help in unique, meaningful ways.

  • With goals for increased enrollment numbers in new programs, there is risk that the university’s reputation for quality will be affected.

  • An ethos of courage, resilience, and creativity pushes the school forward. A sense of energy and movement is evident from the leadership level.

  • Theological, gender, racial, and ethnic diversity penetrate the entire culture. This is a value held in high regard by administration, faculty, staff, and students. This also presents challenges of learning to live in a community with diversity, and understanding how to speak the language of faith while maintaining diversity.

  • There is strong consensus among administration, faculty, staff, and students that it is critically important to find new ways to tell the world what this institution offers (consistent, quality marketing materials; compelling stories; customized approaches).

In addition to your internal findings report, you can take key concepts you’ve identified in focus groups and shape them into marketing messages. These are some actual examples of how we used focus group content and shaped it for use in promotional materials (not the same schools as the report findings above):

+ It’s learning in real-life context that prepares the student for a real-world future. Through on-campus leadership opportunities, progressive partnerships with local industry, and innovative instructors with practical experience, Shelton State prepares students for gainful employment and enhanced quality of life. It’s education that works.

+ A liberal arts education prepares you to succeed in whatever challenges you take on in our rapidly changing culture. At Carson-Newman, you aren’t just trained to do a specific job. You’re encouraged to explore your passions and discover what uniquely motivates you. Learn to ask questions, to look at problems from all angles, to think critically, and to develop solutions. Don’t just accept tomorrow’s jobs—create them.

Marketing research of any form is a big investment in your marketing success.
Maximize that investment, and the result can pay off in big ways.

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