Whether your focus group is there to give feedback on a product or service or help you assess how your brand stands out in your competitive landscape, thought-provoking, open-ended questions are essential to a productive discussion.

However, it's easier said than done. What can you ask beyond "What do you think of our product?" that can provoke the most useful answers?

Here, we've pulled together 53 questions you can ask in your next focus group to pull the most interesting and useful insights you can out of your participants.

Simply copy-and-paste the questions you like below into the notetaking template for a ready-to-go, printable document you can bring to the session.

Featured Resource: Market Research Focus Group Template

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For a free template for notetaking during focus groups, a guide on conducting market research, and several other templates, download our Market Research Kit.

Questions for Building Trust Among Focus Group Members

Before diving into deeper questions, it's best to warm up the group with a couple of open-ended questions that allow participants to get to know each other a little bit. Participants should be able to decide how much they want to share with the group -- don't force anyone to share something they may not feel comfortable sharing.

By including a question that allows people to talk about something tangential to the topic of the focus group, your participants will begin to build empathy for each other. That empathy can grow into trust, which is key for eliciting honest insights out of your group.

Here are a few questions you might ask to build trust:

  • Share an aspect of your work or life experience that's brought you here today.
  • Why did you decide to join our focus group today?
  • When and how did you first come across our brand/product/service?

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Questions to Encourage Follow-up and Continuation of Ideas

The most helpful insights that come out of focus groups are often the most specific points. Challenge your participants to reflect more on the points they've made if you hear something that you're curious about. For instance:

  • That's a fascinating point that [name] just said -- what do you all think of that?
  • Do you agree or disagree with [name]'s statement, and why?
  • [Name], you've been a bit quiet recently. Did you have any thoughts on this topic that you wanted to share?

Questions for Understanding Customer Perception of Your Product or Service

These questions will help you understand how people truly feel about your brand, product, or service. The focus here is on your company -- not the larger industry landscape or your competitors.

Avoid stopping conversation here unless the group gets completely sidetracked. Open-ended questions can be daunting at first. Participants may not know where to start. However, hearing from the other participants will spark reflection on various aspects of your product or service. Be sure to allow each group member who has something to say to speak up before moving on to the next question.

  • How would you describe our company to other people?
  • How would you describe our product/service to other people?
  • What words or feelings come to mind when you think about our company?
  • How likely are you to recommend our product/service to a friend?
  • How well do you feel we incorporate feedback from you, our customers, into our service/product?
  • What ultimately pushed you to purchase this product/service?
  • Where would you buy this product/service?
  • What do you like about this product that you may not find in a similar one?
  • When you think about our industry, which brands come to mind first?
  • Which other brands in our industry did you consider when you were shopping around?
  • Why didn't you go with one of our competitors?
  • What other products/services come to mind when you look at this one?

Questions to Learn What Your Leads and Customers Want to See From You

Listening to your customers' feedback and suggestions for improvement is crucial to retaining customers and turning them into promoters of your brand. It may be difficult to hear the answers to these questions, but turning customer pain points around will elevate your product or service to the next level.

Avoid defending your product or service or setting any limitations on these questions. Instead, frame them in a way that allows anyone to voice anything at all that they're feeling. Recognize that it can be daunting for anyone (especially people with whom you've built relationships) to share negative feedback, so thank them for their candor.

  • If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about our product/service, what would it be?
  • What would you most like to add to or improve about this product?
  • What do you envision is the lifespan of this product/service before you upgrade or replace it?
  • Is there anything we haven't touched on today that you'd like us to know?

Questions for Understanding Your Buyer Personas

The following eight questions will help you understand what motivates your target buyer persona, their habits, their responsibilities and decision-making power, and their preferences.

These questions are written to spark discussion about topics other than your company, product or service, and the competitive landscape.

Don't worry if the conversation seems to stray far from your brand, as the insights that people end up sharing will likely reveal what's significant to them in their life and work. However, it's important you keep the group focused on the specific question you've asked.

  • Describe your job title and your day-to-day responsibilities.
  • What's one task on which you feel you spend way too much time?
  • How do you define success in your role/your life?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face in your role/when it comes to the problem to which this product is a solution?
  • When you're browsing online, on which websites do you spend most of your time?
  • What are the first three apps you open on your phone in the morning?
  • How do you prefer to receive communications from our company? (Specify what type of communication here -- product updates, renewal notices, product/service coaching, meeting reminders, urgent alerts, etc.)
  • Would you be the one using this product/service most in your household/job? If not, who would be?

Questions for Getting a Better Sense of the Competitive Landscape

These questions are intended to spark discussion about the brands in your industry that are top-of-mind for consumers. These are helpful in removing any biases that you and your team might have as people who work in the industry and know various players very well.

To encourage honesty, avoid agreeing with any disparaging comments that your participants make about your competitors. Instead, use the opportunity to ask follow-up questions about exactly what the participants don't like about a specific product or brand.

If you're looking to do a complementary research-based analysis of your competitors, download our Market Research Kit to gain access to a S.W.O.T. analysis template.

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Questions for Generating Content on Your Industry

You might be looking to develop a content strategy for your brand, branch out into a new content medium, or simply generate new content ideas. Any successful content strategy prioritizes what's most engaging and interesting for your target buyer persona, so a focus group can be an effective way to be sure that you're producing material on the right topics and in the medium that your audience wants to consume.

  • What is one recent trend you've noticed in our industry?
  • What's one strategy or tactic you think is underrated in our industry?
  • Where do you go to get a pulse on the things going on in our industry?
  • Who are the people in our industry who you look to as experts?
  • What format of content do you consume to keep up with our industry? Social media posts? Blogs/long-form posts? Podcasts? News outlets?
  • Which specific sources do you go to for information on our industry?
  • What gaps do you see in the content about our industry online? What are the topics on which you'd like to see more education?

Questions for Understanding Product Demand for Something You Haven't Yet Put Out in the Market

These eleven questions are intended to help you understand the demand for a new product or service. These questions will uncover buying habits for a product like the one you're envisioning and whether there's true product-market fit.

  • What is/was your first reaction to the product?
  • How often do you/would you use this type of product?
  • Would you be the one deciding to purchase this product/service? If not, who would be?
  • When and where do you use our product?
  • When you think about the product, do you think of it as something you absolutely need, something you could do without, or something that's somewhere in the middle?
  • How much would you be willing to pay for a product like this?
  • How would you ideally like to buy this product? Would you talk to a sales rep, or would you rather purchase it on your own?
  • What do you think this product is missing?
  • How would you describe someone who you think would use this product/service?
  • If you ended up liking your experience with this product, could you see yourself repurchasing it? If so, how often?
  • If you could either have this product/service or the equivalent dollar value for you/your business, which would you choose? Why? (Specify the dollar value of your product/service when asking this question.)

Questions for Establishing (or Re-establishing) Your Name and Branding

The following questions are helpful for running word association brainstorms and generating potential names or parts of names for a new product or company.

  • What words come to mind when you think of our product category? (Example: "What words come to mind when you think of food delivery?")
  • What words come to mind when you think of [insert a word that symbolizes the main value prop of your product/service here - for example, 'efficiency,' 'speed,' 'health']?
  • If you have candidate names already:
    • What is your initial reaction to this name?
    • What words come to mind when you hear this name?
    • How would you pronounce this? (Spell out the name on a piece of paper or whiteboard.)

And there you have it! 53 questions you can ask in your next focus group. If you're unsure how to conduct a successful focus group, take a look at How to Run a Focus Group for Your Business.

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Originally published Aug 8, 2011 3:00:00 PM, updated October 30 2019

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Conducting Marketing Research