Virtual Focus Groups and Why You Should Consider Them

Eric TielesBlog

Focus groups are one of the most effective and popular market research methods to collect information about a particular topic, product or area of interest to help companies, brands and organizations make informed business decisions. 

But what happens when a global pandemic, plus an influx of advancements in technology, creates major changes in each of our behaviors, habits, and even the way we consume content, products and services? Insert the virtual focus group.

For businesses that still want to carry out market research, virtual focus groups are a game-changing step in the evolution of research, building on the strengths of traditional focus groups and bringing several advantages, including:

  • Cost-effectiveness. Properly running focus groups requires running multiple sessions, possibly in multiple geographic locations. This creates a good deal of expense – not only research costs, but travel costs as well. Virtual focus groups can offer financial savings compared to traditional focus groups when all the costs are considered.
  • Faster turnaround time. Everything is online and, therefore, immediate.It’s often possible to arrange a virtual focus group with less notice than a traditional focus group since clients, moderators and respondents don’t have to take as much time out of their schedules to participate or make travel arrangements.
  • Flexible geographical reach. Virtual focus groups can be used to break down geographical barriers by bringing respondents from all over the country into the same discussion. This can help you obtain a wider range of insights than would be possible with traditional focus groups held in a single city. Thanks to the advantages of being online, you can be wherever and whenever you want.
  • Increased audience participation. People tend to be more natural in an online environment.Quieter participants can often be encouraged to speak up more in an online focus group, where they have a sense of anonymity, than when they are sitting in a room with others whom they perceive to be more extroverted or better informed.
  • Opportunity for audience segmentation. With larger participant base sizes comes the opportunity to look at critical sub-groups, segments and targets within data sets, both in real time and during back-end analysis.
  • Combination of qual and quant techniques. In any focus group (online or traditional), it is a best practice to focus on open-ended, qualitative questions. However, with online focus groups, you also can seamlessly integrate more quantitative questions into the mix, such as scaling, ranking, multiple choice and matrix questions.
  • Improved analysis. Not only does the qualitative/quantitative combination make the question-asking process more efficient, but this combination makes for easier analysis on the back end. Both open- and closed-end data can be run through online analysis tools to make sense of structured and unstructured data.

In the past, online focus groups may have been considered a poor substitute for traditional focus groups; but the truth is, in today’s tech-savvy world, they add benefits and functionality to create an effective, efficient and trustworthy research experience.

It is worth noting there are a few cases where traditional focus groups do make more sense. Capturing participants’ non-verbal communications can be difficult online (you can’t always capture every facial expression, gesture or body language). It is harder to keep control over confidential messages and material online (you can’t prevent them from saving a screenshot). And online participation can be difficult depending on your audience (think younger children and older, less tech-savvy participants). But don’t worry; a good marketing researcher can help you determine the best strategies based on your specific needs. 

If you need help arranging a virtual focus group or have any questions about conducting research to better understand your audiences, please reach out!