Capturing Creativity by Conducting Focus Groups

AAM Summit 2018 - CPA Firm Marketing

By Scott Dine

A wise woman once said that two heads are better than one so you can imagine the possibilities of 12 heads! That is exactly what Kacey Jones of Hinton Burdick proposed in her presentation on building an innovation culture by capturing creativity via focus groups at the 2018 AAM Summit in Portland, OR..

Jones started with story about a trip to Guatemala and the astounding statistic that only one-in-six girls stay in school. She continued by sharing how research has shown that educating women leads to healthier families, that live longer and have a better quality of life for their entire family. The problem, she noted, was that the five-out-of-six girls drop out due to lack of money, lack of space or dress codes.

Until Jones spent six months interviewing 192 girls, fathers, teachers and many others, dress codes were not among the leading reasons for girls dropping out. Throughout the course of the interviews she discovered that the school uniforms were a big problem for fathers because their daughters could not wear their Traje, a traditional dress that was an indication of social status within their culture.

If it wasn’t for conducting a focus group, they may not have discovered the relevance of dress codes in local school dropout rates. So what is a focus group and what kind of value can it bring your firm?

What is a focus group?

A focus group is a group-style interview that typically involves six to twelve people. They can be either formal or informal, but they do need to address the central topic in a methodical and well recorded process. It’s important to make sure it includes a facilitator and pre-written open-ended questions.

Why are focus groups helpful?

Focus groups are helpful because they can be very insightful and oftentimes leverage group dynamics that spur new question or ideas off of one another. If done well, focus groups can reveal new ideas and possible solutions to the topics at hand.

How to conduct a focus group

To conduct a focus group, Jones suggested to start by selecting or becoming a facilitator. This requires organizing and preparing for the focus group and coming up with thoughtful and well crafted questions. She stressed the importance of asking non-leading questions so that the outcomes are not predetermined; listen to what is actually said and take good notes; make a plan to review the data and finalize the process with a summary or a report.

Below are the three main steps, that may be used as guidelines, as laid out by Jones during her presentation:

Step 1

  • Write down questions
    • Questions that get at what the firms most significant barrier/s might be
    • Brainstorm from your core assumptions and create a focus group guide
    • Start with 5-10 good questions

Step 2

  • Identify your stakeholders
    • Which individuals have grounded insight that can give me needed understanding?
    • How can I group these stakeholders together in a way that will facilitate constructive discussions

Step 3

  • Set up Parameters
    • Place and time – 60-90 min
    • Extend invitations to participants
    • Decide how you will record and analyze your information


Give it a try!

Understanding the core problem at hand can lead to simple and effective solutions, better than covering up the problem or throwing money at ‘X’ that doesn’t solve the problem. Conducting a focus group can help put those half-dozen or dozen heads together to come up with fresh, new ideas or solutions. So at the next firm management meeting or roundtable, go ahead and see what great ideas come out of your focus group.


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About Scott Dine

Scott Dine is Partner + Technical Director at Catalyst Group Marketing, a marketing agency for professional service firms. Scott has been a small-medium business advocate for over 20 years and has worked in a variety of roles as an entrepreneur, business developer, project manager and website developer. Additionally, Scott is actively involved in AAM as Chair of the AAMplify! Podcast Committee and as a member of the Website Committee.

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