When and how to use focus groups – even in a virtual world


Organizations today have many options for acquiring customer information, ranging from social listening at voice of customer research at client advisory boards. Given the proliferation of online research and the growing interest in using artificial intelligence (AI) to assess preferences, we wanted to answer a question posed during a recent discussion on the topic research: is there still a place for traditional focus groups? Yes there is.

The need for customer information continues to increase. In his article on INC., John Koetsier, vice president of Insights at Singular, found after speaking with 200 marketing directors that more than a third said their top priority was “unearthing ideas.” Much of this research is conducted virtually – according to Statista, over 50 percent of market research today is conducted online.

Traditional focus groups are valuable even in a virtual world.

Before we dive into newsgroups, a quick warning. We believe that in-person interaction is still the best way to get answers to questions that try to understand why and how – Why did you choose this platform? Why are you faithful? Why would you change How would you describe your experience? How would you rate this supplier? How does this ability help you be successful? Why do you prefer this approach? and so on – questions that probe the customer experience to find answers about what they bought or not bought, why, where it is used, how and when.

Questions like these are great for one-on-one interviews, which are time consuming and expensive, but focus groups are also well suited for gathering this information. One of the benefits of focus groups is that they allow you to collect data through group interactions. Community of experience is an essential characteristic for the selection of participants – you want to recruit your participants with a certain degree of homogeneity so that they are able to participate in a focused and lively discussion on the topics you want to better understand .

Make sure your focus groups will produce the best results

Focus groups serve as a vehicle for gathering in-depth qualitative information. They allow you to explore and identify individual attitudes and behaviors as well as trends within the group. In addition, a group discussion often generates ideas and ideas. There are six situations for which focus groups are ideally suited and will work best:

  1. When you want to dive into complex processes, such as the customer’s buying journey
  2. When you want to find out what influences buying behavior, including change
  3. When you want to test new products or react to something you want people to see and touch
  4. When you want to explore the why of satisfaction
  5. When you want to dig into the perception of brand quality and service
  6. When you want participants to find their own solutions to a problem or scenario
Focus group views

Make sure your newsgroup research yields actionable information.

In our experience, focus groups are the only way to approach number six on this list. With customers more in the driver’s seat than ever, co-creation has enormous value.

Know what you need to know

To get the best results from any research, the best place to start is the question you want to answer. When leading a focus group, be prepared and avoid pulling from the hip. The process is important and it helps to take advantage of the experts. In 1987 Alfred Goldman and Susan McDonald posted In-depth group interview: principles and practices, the first focus group manual. Since then, a variety of useful books have been published. Some we recommend include (alphabetically by author):

  • The Manual for Focus Group Research, 2nd edition, by Thomas L. Greenbaum
  • Focus Groups: A Practical Guide to Applied Research, 5th edition, by Richard A. Krueger and Mary Anne Casey
  • Focus groups as qualitative research, 2nd edition, (Qualitative Research Methods Series 16) by David Morgan

If you have any other sources to recommend, feel free to share them in the comments!

Focus group research considerations

There are six situations for which focus groups are ideally suited and will work best.

Online research methods, including online discussion groups, have merit and will continue to develop as preferred research methods due to their accessibility, versatility and cost. However, live and face-to-face group chats offer a method of physically observing the reactions of respondents to your target market. If you are looking to understand how people perceive your product or services and the reasons for their decisions, focus groups are still one of your best research methods.


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