How to Run Focus Groups for Kids

kids_market_research.jpgFirst get into child mode! This is your opportunity to shut the lid of your laptop, close your eyes, and use your imagination. Find your inner child. You cannot approach kids research in the same way as you do an adult project.

Let’s assume you are researching a toy. Imagine you are a child playing with that toy. Step into their shoes and imagine the scene. Who are you playing with, are you on your own, with a sibling, a friend, mum or dad? Where are you? In your room, in the lounge, or playroom, outside? What are you doing with the toy, what game are you playing? Are any other toys involved? Hover above the scene. How old are you? What’s this toy giving you? What could make it even more fun?

Staying in child mode still, ask yourself what age you started playing with this toy and what age you think you might grow out of it. What other accessories could extend play for you, as you get older?

In adult mode now, you need to write your proposal. Thinking about the age of boys and/or girls, how would they feel most relaxed to talk about this toy and play with it so you better understand the relationship they have with this toy?

What are your options?

  • A depth interview with mum present
  • Paired depth interview with a friend with mum present
  • Family discussion
  • Friends in a mini group
  • Intercept interview in a toy store
  • Accompanied shopping with mum and kids with pre and post interview at home
  • Hall test with a mock-up display, or ad to watch, or website to view
  • Standard focus group with children (three pairs of friends)
  • Standard focus group with children who don’t know each other
  • In-school research
  • Online extended focus group

Budget will dictate the number of groups or depth interviews you can do, and don’t be deceived, online costs just as much as offline, and rightly so due to the vast amount of data resulting from it.

African_American_Mother.jpgAge spread may also mean that whilst you can research older ages as groups of friends, younger age groups may need to include depth interviews with mum.

If the actual buying decision and retail environment is important to answer the research brief, then you cannot expect a child to remember this (mums don’t either) so create it for them and get the instant reaction to pack design, pricing, and competitive set that is more difficult to recreate in a viewing studio.

How important is mum? Rather than conducting separate mum and child groups, think about a mix where one researcher talks to the kids in one room and to the mums in another room, and then brings them together to compare notes. This is fun but also very realistic as you capture the sort of discussion that happens at home and in the shops. Consider accompanied shopping — it is expensive but reflects reality better than focus groups, so maybe factor a few in as a good way to gather some background early in the research project.

So as you start thinking about the practicalities of budget, age spread, timing, and so on, think about availability because kids are tired after school and they need to eat and get to bed. You may just possibly get a 4-5pm group and a 5:30-6:30, but two is usually the maximum in an evening, and the quality isn’t great as they’re tired after a day at school. Weekends are better, although children have a lot of activities, and by doing the research then, you exclude those who could be your core target.

The attraction of online research is that children can answer the question each day at a time that fits with their other commitments. It doesn’t involve mum having to get them to a venue, and there isn’t the complication of conflicting sibling commitments.

The recruitment stage is important in kids research. I like to make sure the children themselves are ok about attending, so phone them yourself and say hi and tell them a bit about what they’ll be doing so they can mentally prepare. Small pre-tasks get them thinking about the topic before they arrive. Good pre-tasks would be to look at websites as this doesn’t involve mum in too much extra work, but if you are prepared to cost this into the budget, then paying mum to take them to a shop with a task to do gives them a good reminder of the competitive set. I would also ensure that any behavioural information is collected at recruitment rather than waste time in the research.  

Let’s assume the client loves your proposal, and you have the kids in front of you, what next? It’s essential that you build rapport fast. How you do this will probably be quite a personal choice, but I would always make good eye contact, smile, and tell them a story about something funny that happened that day — something my dog did on her walk perhaps or something funny that happened in the last group. It doesn’t matter so long as you appear friendly, not like a teacher and certainly not like a scary Market Researcher with an important job to do.

Remember they hold the key. They have a relationship with the product, and you want them to share it with you. So what fun things could you think up for them to do that will:

  1. Engage them
  2. Build trust and rapport
  3. Get them thinking about the product category
  4. Tell us something about the terminology in this market
  5. Tell us what the issues are that we need to focus on

Boy_on_Tablet.jpgChildren are different — from us and from each other. Some like to look at stuff, some like to talk about it, and some like to get stuck in and involved. So make sure to plan exercises to engage all types of children.

You want to find ways to connect with children and get them talking about this toy so you ask them to bring it with them. Think about exercises or games they could play that would get them chatting about it. Drawing always works well, sorting pictures, making collages, writing stories together about the toy, paired tasks, and role play. Imagine how the exercises you’re thinking about will help address the research objectives. Mentally tick them off. I find that I can have lots of exercises prepared with specific aims in each case, but expect surprises. Good ones.

We might look at some websites, competitive products, advertising, pack designs, and probably we’d do some sort of sorting or exercise that gets them talking without my asking questions. In a recent project, I asked them to describe the person who designed a product, what they ate for breakfast, whether they had kids, what they did at the weekend, and so on.

Three things I do not do:

  1. Use a list of questions or a discussion guide. Instead, I have a note of what I need to know by the end of the group — no more than 10 things, and I’ll go through them with the kids so we can check together.
  2. Ask “why.” This is very lazy. There are far more creative and imaginative ways to find out more such as using “clean questions.” Examples are:
    • Tell me more about
    • That’s so interesting…
    • And what is there about the….
    • And how is that……
    • And when…. what next…
  3. Give them sugary drinks, food or snacks, anything crunchy or crispy or noisy.

Things I do do:

  1. Laugh quite a bit.
  2. Sum up from time to time by writing words on a flip chart.
  3. Tell them, how amazing they are… because I truly believe they are.

Interested to Learn More?

To find out more about this topic, read's article about how the Walt Disney Company test drives new characters and concepts with kid-centric focus groups.

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Editor's Note

Judy Bartkowiak runs Kids Research. She is also author of Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing and Teach Yourself: Learn Market Research in a Week. She is an NLP Trainer, Author, and Kids Coach as well as an experienced kids researcher. As JudyBee, she is author of the Queens of Africa books and co-writer of Jane and Jake’s Adventures to Awesome. Find out more about Judy or order her books at

Topics: Market Research Strategy Retail How To's