What is the best method to assess clarity in focus groups? Hint: The best question is not: Is this clear?

Clarity assessment is a common objective in focus group testing, and rightly so. Having clients decipher your meaning is never a good starting point. How can you best find out if your message is clear? Different approaches yield varying outcomes.


 Suppose you want to launch a new energy drink for the over-55 market segment. You've come up with the name "Youth Juice".

You're hoping the name conveys the notion that the product will provide users with the energy level of a 20-year-old.


 "Is the name clear?"

 Asking the question directly seems logical. It is easy to answer and produces a simple yes or no answer. "No" sends you back to the drawing board. "Yes", however, could mean three things:


  1. "Yes", meaning  1: Participants understand the energy-boosting promise of the product, loud and clear. Mission accomplished.
  2. "Yes", meaning 2: Participants are confident they understand: This product is designed for young people. If you don't delve any further, you may never realise wires are crossed.
  3. "Yes", meaning 3: Participants are confused but embarrassed to admit this in front of a group of strangers. You've missed an opportunity to clarify your meaning.


 "Is it clear that this product will provide you with the energy of a 20-year-old?"


By providing participants with an interpretation of your message, you've missed the chance to hear it in their own words. You will never know what their interpretation might have been.

In addition, for fear of losing face, very few participants will admit that they had not initially understood your meaning.


"What does this mean to you?"


Asking participants to rephrase your message ensures that their interpretation is in line with your intended meaning.


Emphasizing "...to you?" takes some pressure off by reinforcing that there are no right or wrong answers. What matters is what they read into the name.

One last thing: As soon as one participant provides his or her interpretation, others often concur. This impedes your ability to assess each group member's understanding. To prevent peer influence, ask participants to jot down their thoughts before sharing with the group.


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