Last year, execs at Seagate, a leading provider of hard drives and storage solutions, realized that they knew very little about a very big target market: college students.

Why college students, you ask? Because they are our future, and we want them to see us in their future.

Today, people create and collect exorbitant amounts of data, and we have to store it (and back it up) somewhere. Seagate wanted to make sure that its products are what people want. What better way to know that than to ask them.

So, to better understand that group of potential customers, Seagate began hosting focus groups at Bay Area universities to learn about the buying habits, brand awareness, and perspectives of college students in relation to consumer technology: What makes one brand more appealing than another? Is price the biggest factor or are features more important? Do they use external hard drives or do they prefer cloud storage? What type of content do they store on their hard drives?

Each session was moderated by a business professor, and the students didn't know which company was conducting the focus group, so answers were unbiased and unfiltered. The professor guided students through a series of questions that addressed broad technology trends and buying habits, covering tablets, smartphones, and laptops, for example, before zeroing in on storage needs.

The focus groups allowed Seagate to gain authentic insight from students employing storage on a daily basis for both schoolwork and personal use, and they provided ideas on how to refine products and better hone marketing and PR strategies. A bonus: focus groups help solidify relationships and garner brand awareness within a target demographic.

Looking to host your own focus group? Here are some steps you can take to put together a program.

1. Outline the goals of your research

  • Set ground rules for all participants.
  • Make sure all participants know that their responses are being recorded and will be presented after the focus group.
  • Explain what information you want to obtain, and for what purpose.
  • Discuss particular features or benefits you want to showcase, if there are any.
  • Be sure to include topics that are broad enough to encourage a discussion, yet remain pertinent to the information you're looking to acquire. However, don't be too specific, and make sure your questions are unbiased.

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image of Jonathan Long

Jonathan Long is social media manager at Seagate.

Twitter: @Weezul

LinkedIn: Jonathan Long