Organizations today have numerous options for acquiring customer insights, from social listening to voice of customer research to customer advisory boards. Given the proliferation of research online and the growing interest in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for gauging preferences, we wanted to respond to a question posed in a recent discussion on the topic of research: Is there still a place for traditional focus groups? Yes, there is.
The need for customer insights continues to rise. In his INC. article, John Koetsier, VP of Insights at Singular, found after talking with 200 CMOs that over a third said their biggest priority is to “unearth insights.” A great deal of this research is being conducted virtually – according to Statista, over 50 percent of market research today is conducted online.
Before delving into focus groups, a quick disclaimer. We believe in-person interaction is still the best way to secure answers to questions that try to understand why and how – Why did you choose this platform? Why are you loyal? Why would you switch? How would you describe your experience? How would you evaluate this provider? How does this capability help you succeed? Why do you prefer this approach? and so on – questions that probe the customer experience to find answers about what they bought or didn’t, why, where it is used, how, and when.
Questions like these are excellent for individual interviews, which take a long time and are expensive, but focus groups are also well-suited to gather this information. One of the benefits of focus groups is that it enables you to collect data through group interactions. Commonality of experience is an essential characteristic for participant selection – you want to recruit your participants with a certain degree of homogeneity so they are able to participate in a focused and lively discussion of the topics you want to understand more about.
Ensure Your Focus Groups Will Yield the Best Results
Focus groups serve as a vehicle to collect qualitative in-depth information. They enable you to explore and identify individual attitudes and behaviors as well as trends among the group. In addition, a group discussion often sparks ideas and insights. There are six situations for which focus groups are ideally suited and will yield the best results:
- When you want to delve into complex processes, such as the customer buying journey
- When you want to uncover what influences buying behavior, including switching
- When you want to test new products or reactions to something you want people to see and touch
- When you want to explore the why behind satisfaction
- When you want to dig into brand and service quality perception
- When you want participants to come up with their own solutions to address a problem or scenario
In our experience, focus groups are the only way to address number six on this list. With customers being more in the driver’s seat than ever, there’s tremendous value in co-creation.
Know What You Need to Know
To yield the best results from any research, the best place to start is with the question you want to answer. When conducting a focus group, come prepared and avoid shooting from the hip. The process matters, and it helps to leverage experts. In 1987, Alfred Goldman and Susan McDonald published The Group Depth Interview: Principles and Practice, the first focus group textbook. Since then, a variety of useful books have been published. Some we recommend include (in alphabetical order by author):
- The Handbook for Focus Group Research, 2nd Edition, by Thomas L. Greenbaum
- Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for 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 other sources to recommend, please share them in the comments!
Online research methods, including online focus groups, have merit and will continue to grow as preferred research methods because of accessibility, versatility, and cost. However, face-to-face, live group discussions provide a method to physically observe the reactions of respondents in your target market. If you’re looking to understand how people experience your product or services and the motivations behind their decisions, focus groups remain one of your best research methods.