Marketing Strategy

How to Run School Focus Groups Like a Pro

December 16, 2020

I know what you’re thinking: focus groups are reserved for marketing agencies and flashy advertising honchos. While they might channel some serious Mad Men vibes, focus groups are definitely not just for the likes of Don Draper. In fact, they can be an invaluable market research tool for schools too! 

Have you ever wanted to ask your existing community what unique selling proposition (USP) stood out to them when they chose your school? Perhaps you’re keen to get their take on certain pain points or learn more about areas you could improve in? Well, hosting an engaging focus group is one sure-fire way to learn all this and more.

But first...


What is a focus group?

A focus group is similar to a group interview with a small number (around 8-10) of carefully selected participants who share similar demographics or psychographics. As a group, these participants are guided through a series of questions by a moderator who will encourage them to discuss their answers freely among themselves. 

The goal here is to observe the group’s behavior and gain a better understanding of their views and attitudes toward different issues. While a moderator is essential for the smooth running of a focus group, it’s important to note that they should rarely provide their own opinions or feedback during the session. 


Why should your school consider running one?

If you’re looking for a way to learn more about your prospective families, what motivates them, and what drives them to choose your school, focus groups are a great way to uncover these all-important decision-making details. Conversely, they can also help to identify pain points or potential barriers to enrollment at your school, arming you with the information you need to resolve these obstacles. 

Additionally, focus groups are a great way to better define your school personas. We can’t even begin to tell you how important accurate personas are for optimizing communication between your school and prospective families, and the most-effective and scarily accurate personas are always based on market research.


Illustration: personas


Why not just run an online survey you say? Sure, surveys are a handy (and cost-effective) way to take temperature tests or measure your school’s NPS score, but they don’t provide you with quite the level of information that focus groups do. While they do take more time and effort to organize and run, personalized feedback gained through a focus group is incomparable.


3 easy steps to running a focus group

So you’re ready to host your first-ever school focus group – great! This doesn’t need to be an overwhelming process, we’ll show you how to get started in just three easy steps. 


Step 1: Decide who you're going to invite

Who you invite to participate in your focus group will largely depend on what you’re hoping to achieve, so it’s important to set some goals first. Let’s say that your aim is to remove barriers to enrollment for prospective families, then you’re going to want to invite a number of primary guardians, who drove the enrollment process for their child.

When planning any event at your school, it’s important to allow plenty of lead time for your guests to check their calendars and ensure they’re free to attend. Focus groups are no different despite the fact that you’re rounding up a smaller group. We recommend sending invitations about 4-6 weeks in advance.


Step 2: Choose your focus group format

Given the intimate nature of focus groups, they can be successfully run in both online or offline formats. Of course, gathering your participants in-person can provide an extra layer of personalization and comfortability, these kinds of events are not always possible given the current state of the world. 

If you do choose to run your focus group online, Zoom is a great platform to host it on. We recommend allowing extra time at the beginning of your session to allow participants to introduce themselves and become acquainted with one another so that conversation is able to flow more freely. Another great tip would be to establish an action or gesture to signify when a participant would like to speak or add something to the conversation – there’s nothing worse than eight people trying to talk over each other. 


Step 3: Host an engaging focus group

Okay, over to you now – it’s time to host your focus group! The most effective focus groups have three things in common: they have a set purpose or objective, they’re structured and follow an agenda, the moderator keeps a detailed record of the session

One challenge you might come up against during your focus group is that one person who seems to dominate the conversation. This is relatively common in any group environment, so be sure to step in and provide everyone with the chance to contribute and share their thoughts for a more balanced discussion.


So, what happens next?

You’ve just run your first successful focus group – congratulations! You’re probably wondering what’s next from here? Your next steps are to compile this data and information into an easily digestible report or summary that you can share with your administration team. After all, this is how you’re going to be able to influence change at your school or in marketing and enrollment strategies. Along with a copy of the full recording or session notes, provide a snapshot summary of all key takeaways and findings. 

So there you have it. Focus groups do take a little planning, but they’re well worth the effort. Not only can you leverage this tool to gain extra insight into the decision-making process for prospective families, but you can also use them to strengthen your communication and retention strategies with your existing community to ensure greater retention.


Looking for more information on hosting school events? Check out some of the resources below: