Focus Groups: the New Black

From the desk of Chris Efken

Focus groups are back and hotter than ever!  In today’s digital world, where insights are gleaned from social media, text messages and 45-second video uploads, it appears that focus group discussions are still a key way for brand and R&D teams to get the insights needed to take ideas to the next level.

It’s hard to think back to the time when a moderator’s arsenal of methods included only focus groups and in-depth interviews. For many, qualitative research and focus groups were synonymous terms. Yet, as marketers’ need to better understand consumers wants, desires and decision-making behaviors increased, new methods were created making it quicker, easier and more affordable to gather information.

Today, online platforms, webcams, GoPro cameras, social media listening platforms, mobile phones, tablets, geo-locators and even Google glasses have been added to our qualitative toolbox. However, though we continue to add methods to our toolbox, it doesn’t mean that focus groups have been removed.  Rather, focus groups now play a different role–the one they were always intended to play.

Groups are best used to:

  • Explore perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, language, drivers and barriers
  • Add texture to client’s current understanding of a consumer segment
  • Aid in the ideation and brainstorming process
  • Observe consumers interaction when discussing a topic or process
  • Uncover, through the use of projective behaviors, the emotional and psychological reasons behind consumers’ behaviors
  • And, of course, to single handedly keep the M&Ms franchise going strong.

Like all methods, focus groups have and will continue to evolve over time: the length of the sessions has increased, while the number of participants per session has decreased.  And today, focus groups often go far beyond just the discussion. Pre-research tasks are included in nearly all projects as a means of getting deeper, richer insights from more engaged, committed participants.  So, while focus groups may comprise a smaller portion of marketers’ overall research budget, when used correctly  group discussions continue to deliver the insights needed to make smarter business decisions.

I like to think of focus group discussions as being “the new black” – classic, intriguing, but never disappointing.