Five Reasons Focus Groups Remain Relevant In The Era Of Zoom And Big Data

As technology grows and new and different research techniques come into the marketplace, our research toolbox is becoming more diverse.  But even in the era of Zoom and big data, a recent Wall Street Journal report says companies shouldn’t give up on focus groups. Why is that?  In a nutshell, focus groups involve  people talking to people.  Despite all of our advancements in technology, there is a real emotional and psychological need for us, humans, to watch and listen to the simple art of conversation.  It seems that nothing can replace this very intimate and compelling form of research. What’s up with this? The reason is simple, when done right, focus groups provide a unique lens to see how others perceive the world and each other.  Focus groups should not be used to assess behavior; there are other tools for that.  They are uniquely able to capture top of mind reactions to ideas and concepts that can’t be achieved elsewhere. Additionally, only focus groups provide the subtle nuances that can be seen and acted on in an in-person setting.[/vc_column_text][divider line_type="No Line"]

The Five Reasons …

1. Body Language Speaks Volumes

A facial expression, a gesture, body movement, a glance are all aspects of body language that a moderator can see and explore more deeply during a focus group.  There are a number of ways to call out non-verbal behavior on the spot to dig deeper into the subject matter. For example:

  • “Bob, it looks like you’re thinking something…what’s on your mind?”
  • “Jane, why did you make that face … what’s up?”
2. Reading the Energy in the Room is Priceless

Focus groups are also unique in reading the ‘energy’ in the room when stimuli are shown.  Both the moderator and the client can ‘feel’ if a concept, advertisement or message is good or bad, even before they start to talk about it. That unique energy can only be achieved and felt during a focus group.

3. People are Inspired to Share Innovative Ideas

Focus groups allow for exploration of alternate ideas, perspectives and opinions that can provide real insight into a lifestyle, category or brand.  Again, when done well with the right moderator, a lively discussion and free thinking can explore and uncover new, uncharted territories. These unscripted conversations can lead to rich learnings and strategic insights. The free flow of information and ideas during tangential conversations is unique to focus group discussions.

4. Listening to Consumers Connects People to Brands

While a number of researchers claim focus groups are not useful or are waning in popularity, it is simply untrue. Yes, there are other online tools that can provide qualitative learning and can do it faster and more efficiently. Quick turn research methods certainly add value in the right circumstances.  And there’s no question, quantitative data is essential.

5. Insights in Real Time

It allows for live-time probing/questioning/pivoting with consumers based on their responses, making it iterative and more insightful.

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Nothing can replace the value of listening to consumers, and the physical and emotional act of having a simple conversation about a topic that is common to all in the room.  The need to ‘feel’ a participant’s emotions will always be essential in the quest to understand consumer’s motivations, and how to create an emotional connection with people.

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About the Author

Brian Fletcher is the VP of Qualitative Research at Insights in Marketing, where he uses his outgoing nature and love of junk food to make research participants feel right at home. Check out some of his top tips for leading qualitative research.