M&M’s—The Unofficial/Official Food of the Focus Group

If you’ve ever been an observer of a focus group you may already know that M&M’s are the unofficial/official snack food for the two-hour session. No one really knows how the tradition started, but the multi-colored candy treat has an uncanny ability to keep everyone on task as they listen to the conversation being held with their current or prospective customers. In addition to “plain or peanut?” Power Marketing Research has often had clients ask us what they should be looking and listening for during a focus group. As a client/observer here are some key things to watch for:  

  • Be sure to choose a trained focus group moderator to lead your project from start to finish. A moderator should be an unbiased third-party who can engage each participant inclusively, and avoid having any one person dominate the conversation.
  • The moderator should supply you with a copy of the Moderator Guide (sometimes called a Discussion Guide). This is the outline for the focus group conversation. You can then follow along as the session unfolds.  
  • During the session you may want to take notes about specific comments made by participants. That way you can refer to them during the debrief after the focus group.  
  • You may hear something you want expanded on. Prior to the focus group you and the moderator should choose a point during the session where the moderator can step out to see if you have any additional questions you wanted posed.  
  • Once the session is over, allot time for a debrief. The moderator will have the conversation fresh in their mind and you can ask specifics about what happened. If you need to make a decision based on the focus group immediately, the moderator can help you by providing details about what they heard.

Being a focus group observer should be a rewarding experience, as you get to peer into the mind of your target market. Just be sure to come prepared to listen—and request your favorite M&Ms in advance!

Debra Power

Power Marketing Research, 804 Phoenix Drive, Ann Arbor, MI, 48108