Focus groups in China

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 Collect first-hand consumer insights in China

One of the many challenges faced by international companies in China is the lack of reliable and transparent data about their market. Although Europeans and Americans rely on a multitude of secondary data sources to obtain information on their domestic markets, understanding your Chinese market requires you to get as close as possible to the actual consumer. Focus groups, consumer roundtables, and workshops are ones of the most executed methodologies by Daxue Consulting to collect these first-hand consumer insights.

Focus groups are discussions comprised of 6 to 10 people that usually last two to three hours. It is a form of qualitative research. Daxue Consulting leverages focus groups in China to gain information about Chinese consumers’ feelings, opinions, and perceptions. The following analysis aims at mapping attitudes, motivations and decision criteria of Chinese consumers.

Daxue Consulting offers full-service focus group setups in China, including:

  • Screening and recruitment of participants
  • Creation of the discussion guide
  • Facilities and logistic setup
  • Moderation and execution of the focus group with trained staff
  • Simultaneous translation of the discussion in your native language
  • Transcript and translation of the exact dialogue into your native language
  • Analysis and reporting of the findings

Our team has extensive experience in focus group organization in various sectors such as:


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Daxue Consulting offers full-service solutions for your focus groups in China

Daxue Consulting provides specific facilities to set up focus groups in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and any tier-1 and -2 cities in China. Our team of analysts also provides a customized report that is specific to your needs and never generic to the industry or the methodology. Our services include: 

Preliminary research

Daxue Consulting executes preliminary research of existing data in your market, the competition, key consumer targets, and potential distribution structures. This short desk research (our methodology is fully adaptable to your requested timelines) will enable a full optimization of every step of the focus group research: more targeted sampling, more comprehensive discussion guidelines, better-prepared moderators, and more customized analysis.  

Focus group facilities in China

Daxue Consulting provides specific 30-40 m2 focus group rooms in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and any city targeted in China. Our services include all the facilities expected for such projects:

  • Client monitoring rooms behind large two-way mirrors (dimmed-lights viewing and lights-on viewing)
  • 42 inch LED TV for monitoring from different angles
  • Camera zoom in/zoom-out control via an in-room monitoring system
  • Flip chart, blackboard, and projector
  • Live video broadcast to anywhere in the world
  • Separate preparation room
  • Catering and refreshments

Recruitment of participants

The focus group sample should match your requirements, but also the situation of your market in China. When not pre-determined by your team, we leverage our extensive experience in China as well as the preliminary research to suggest the most adapted sample of participants. Criteria are your needs of information, your key segments of consumers in China, and resources.

For each project, we recruit new participants. We believe recurrent participants for many focus groups show biased opinions and as such, cannot reflect the market. Our in-house trained team of recruiters and our nationwide network enables Daxue Consulting to be fully-equipped to recruit any demographic class and segment of consumers in China. We also can recruit participants for B2B focus groups in China in your sector of interest.

Focus group moderation

Daxue Consulting provides an experienced and trained focus group moderator specifically chosen according to your industry or your information needs. Our team includes native moderators available in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and any cities in tier-1 and -2 cities in China, but also low-tier and rural areas. The moderator is involved in every step of the focus group preparation to ensure an in-depth understanding of your objective and the discussion stakes.

The moderator will guide the focus group discussion by introducing the topics and using his or her experience to ensure maximum participation from each participant. He/she focuses on the control of the group dynamic and will prevent any individual participant from dominating the discussion. The moderator will also introduce products, marketing concepts, and industry news to make each share experiences, ideas, and comments. Finally, moderators are trained to incorporate projective techniques into focus groups.

Recording

All the discussions are audio and video recorded and sent to the client afterward, along with the transcript, including a service of video subtitles for optimizing the usage of the footage with your team. The option for watching the focus groups in real-time from other locations, using live-streaming, is also available.

Focus group analysis and reporting

Following the focus group discussion, Daxue Consulting will transcribe the dialogue and codify it to proceed with the analysis. Our analysts compile findings and conduct both horizontal and vertical analysis of the results. Our aim is to map consumers’ attitudes, motivations, and decision criteria. The final reporting will discuss how to utilize these insights to optimize your value proposition and marketing strategies in China.

When analyzing the focus groups discussions, Daxue’s team will aim to take advantage of all the information and each panel to identify key consumer insights and make valuable recommendations.

Methodology follow-up

Daxue Consulting supports a multi-approach data-collection in China to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the market. According to the objective of projects, our team occasionally uses focus groups in China to create some research hypothesis to be validated through quantitative research methods. Other projects involve the collection of quantitative data leading to the design of value proposition and concept acceptance assessment through focus groups.

We can either statistically confirm the results through quantitative research methods like a market survey to assess Chinese market acceptance of a concept, or using qualitative methods to challenge the identified concepts such as ethnographic research in China, and in-depth interviews in China.


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focus groups China


When should companies use focus groups, roundtables, and workshops?

Focus Groups, but also panels and workshops are ones of the tools used by Daxue Consulting in China (more information about consumer workshops). It is used for brand image monitoring, brand development, brand positioning, in-depth analysis with products, testings, and services which are more difficult to understand or get more emotional intensity. This is an interesting tool when qualitative information is more important than quantitative information.

The strength of the focus group methodology is its in-depth analysis. A moderator has to monitor to make sure the information is not superficial, and the full discussion can be recorded on audio and videotape. The reasons for consumer decision making can often be elicited from focus groups. For the brand-image generation, the data brought by focus groups in China will allow a deep understanding of the consumer perception and therefore will help to understand the gap with the brand strategy.

Why focus groups are particularly relevant in China

Focus Groups in China are a particularly useful method for data collection in China because it enables to extract key information regarding consumers’ perception and opinion in a culture when such interactions are seldom. The 2 to 3 hours of focus groups, but also round tables, help our moderator to build the relationship and trust which allow the level of open exchanges required to gain actionable insights from Chinese consumers.

Moreover, one of the many challenges faced in the market research field in China is the lack of reliable and transparent data about your market. Focus groups and consumer round tables will, therefore, help to collect these first-hand consumer insights.

The multiculturalism of Chinese population is an additional benefit of the focus group method in China. Many consumers in China are at least bi-lingual (Mandarin Chinese, Wuhan Hua, Shanghai Hua, etc.) and usually people can talk and converse in certain dialects, whereas reading or writing in those dialects is far more difficult. Translating questionnaires often results in changes in the “meaning” of questions, resulting in misunderstandings and invalid results. The focus group settings can reduce a lot of these difficulties.

What challenges for focus groups in China

How to ensure the quality of the sample

Beware the professional focus group participant! While focus group and, generally speaking, research methods have been booming in China in the years following the economic rise, some consumers have made a job of participating in surveys and research project, taking advantage of the poor diligence of panel and research providers. It leads to many bias and non-reliability of the collected data. Aware of this phenomenon in China, Daxue Consulting ensures new participants for any research project, including focus groups and roundtables. Our recruitment specialists leverage their networks, but also proceed with sample cleaning methods to ensure you the quality of the participant’s sample and therefore the reliability of the findings.

How to ensure the quality of the analysis

Also, it is crucial to allocate more time for recruitment, transcription, and analysis than you would in other markets. The multitude of different accents (Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing for instance) makes transcription a specialized and longer job than in places where focus group participants come from similar backgrounds such as France, Germany, Italy or Spain.

How to ensure the quality of the fieldwork phase

Daxue Consulting ensures to keep on track objectives of the research. We use a simple model that starts with the “Business (or Management) Question,” break this down into “Research Questions,” and finally into “Investigative Questions” for our focus groups in China.

Our final aim is to deliver to your team actionable insights. At each level, the questions must answer the broader question above it and are evaluated regarding their efficacy at achieving that. They must also be discussed and confirmed with the client. We design our focus group guidelines following this method. 

Compared to Americans and Europeans, Chinese people are less open and willing to express strong opinions, especially within a group. It is particularly the case for negative comments. Moderating focus groups in China required then very skilled, experienced and trained operators. It implies to be able to encourage participation, make participants feel comfortable, and draw out the quieter ones. Nevertheless, the warm-up period is often longer in China. The moderator also needs to be aware of the different ethnic and social backgrounds of participants.

Breaking up your groups according to gender and age, as well as many other criteria should also be considered carefully. Chinese cultural background might lead the discussion to be fully dominated by the senior participant, as youth are required to not disagree with older’s opinion. To a lesser, but still very significant extent, the same might occur with females in a group of males. Only native moderators will be able to manage these issues and ensure the maximum expression of everyone’s ideas.

focus-group-facilities-chinaThe skills of a good moderator are myriad, but we find the most critical skills are:

  • Probing: The ability to ask appropriate and relevant follow-up questions that may not necessarily follow the script or brief. It presumes some creativity and innovation.
  • Empathy: These sets of skills popularized by the US Psychologist Rogers encourage the interviewees to feel that the moderator is “one of them.” Similar ethnic, cultural, class and gender factors are important.
  • Silence: A skilled moderator is not embarrassed by silence, but thrives on it. While “top of the mind” opinions and feedback are key to focus groups, following the “word association” techniques of the early psychoanalysts, the moderator should also use what we call “the secondary level consciousness” where below-the-surface motivations (often very significant in consumer decision-making) can be tapped. Skillful use of silence facilitates this.
  • Group-think detection: A researcher called Janis identified a mechanism called “Groupthink,” which reduced the performance of teams. It was recognized as the main reason for poor decision making in groups with judgments like bombing strategic military targets and jury decisions. In short, it refers to the tendency of groups to think alike over time and to be influenced by high-impact individuals in the team. The skilled moderator knows the warning signs and the techniques to reduce Group Think. Techniques like asking each person, in turn, directing questions to different sections of the room, and encouraging diversity of responses can help.
  • Process Expert: Paradoxically, the best moderator is one who is NOT an expert or experienced consumer in the product class or items, though of course, an objective familiarity with the product is important. This is because the skilled moderator is an expert on group facilitation, and drawing out information from others, not on product knowledge. It also helps in maintaining objectivity.
  • Time management: The skilled focus group moderator knows when all the information available has been drawn out…and ensures that all themes and questions on the brief have been addressed. Wasted time in a focus group is as unprofessional as wrong notes in an orchestra.
  • Energy management: The focus group should be managed like an orchestra. High energy peaks must be built up to; lower energy time is allowing for reflection must be made in. The introduction should establish the theme quickly, though it can either be subtle or dramatic. Changing the tenor and sub-theme when participants seem bored, jaded, or tired is also a skill that can only be applied successfully through many years of experience.