A lot of folks have asked me what it's like to participate in a paid focus group – it's actually kind of fun.
A few years ago, I signed up with a handful of local market research companies. You provide a lot of demographic information and it usually results in a call every six months. This particular time it was through Observation Baltimore. They're local to Baltimore, you can probably find a handful near you by searching for “focus group” and the major metropolitan city you're near (and willing to drive to) or by visiting Greenbook, which is aimed more for companies looking to hire a focus group marketing company.
The process started with an email asking me to fill out a survey about home improvement. It didn't take long to fill out but I would soon see the same questions again.
About a day or so after I filled out the survey, a rep from the focus group called me. They would ask me some of the same questions again, probably to confirm my answers. (I would see the exact same questions on a paper survey once I got there)
I don't recall all the questions but the seemed to drive towards learning how handy we were. I think I would qualify myself as “barely competent” (at the time, now I'm “moderately competent bordering on disastrous in certain situations!).
A hundred bucks cash… for 90 minutes on the panel, plus another ten bucks to cover parking. 90 minutes was just the panel, it didn't include the pre-selection or travel or all the time answering the survey and taking their phone calls.
The Focus Group
It was a 12 person focus group, a good spread of folks who were good enough to be contractors to those who couldn't tell you the difference between a Philips and a flat head screwdriver.
I found the panel to be interesting and fun. I was studying how they worked to eventually write an article about them, so it was a bit meta, but I also wanted to be an engaged and honest contributor. They were giving me a hundred bucks for my time, I was going to give them an honest effort… plus it was easy. I just had to share my opinion on things.
So there was the 12 of us and a moderator, we were sitting in a conference type of room, and they just asked us questions about our experience making home improvements. We'd talk about different home improvement stores in the region (for us it was Home Depot, Lowes, and ACE Hardware) and it wasn't as clear what they were getting at. Eventually, as the minutes progressed, we started to delve deeper.
I think the client was actually a flooring installer in the area that relied on a cartoon caricature of the founder in all of their commercials. The last part of the focus group involved us watching various versions of a commercial, cartoon and live action, and seeing how we felt about each one. Then, nearly 90 minutes on the dot, we were done, thanked, and excused.
Would I Do It Again?
At the time I did this focus group, I had another, later, meeting in Baltimore so it worked out nicely. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't have done it simply because it ends up being 30 minutes of driving each way, 90 minutes for the focus group, plus all the other time. That's nearly 3 hours for $100 – not a bad haul but it happens to be inconvenient times for my personal schedule (kids going to bed and all).
I would end up doing a few more paid focus groups (one was for the Washington D.C. metro and the other was for another local company), each time netting $100 or $120 depending on the length.
I'll tell you what though, $100 cash in an envelope is a pretty solid payday for 90 minutes of chatting.
And that Benjamin was the crispest cleanest bill I'd ever seen. I kind of felt bad folding it up in my wallet.
Have you ever participated in a focus group?