Focus Groups 2.0
An article in The Wall Street journal exploring various innovations in technology, big data and social media monitoring argued that the focus group was no longer relevant as a market research tool. It posited that given the various available tools for consumer listening, focus groups were no longer needed. In contrast to the article, Panaly would argue that focus groups are not dead and if anything, recent technological developments have amplified their importance and role within market research.
As seen in a previous post on the Panaly blog, big data and social media listening are plagued with a number of shortcomings. One of its key limitations however, relates to the fact that whilst big data analytics can tell us “what”, it fails to provide further insight into the reasons behind the actions or trends it has uncovered. This is where focus groups (along with other similar qualitative tools) come into play, allowing researchers and companies to uncover more in-depth insight about their consumers.
Furthermore, technological spillovers have also benefited focus groups, as the set-up, running, recording and communication of results has never been easier. Focus groups can now operate and be recorded from multiple locations, bringing together individuals from completely different areas or countries, along with their respective opinions and thoughts. In this way, innovations in technology have made focus groups more accessible and convenient, thus increasing the opportunities for listening, engaging and actually understanding customers in a more qualitative and detailed manner.
As an example, one particular benefit to focus groups has been the development of 360 degree voice activated filming. As the name suggests, these cameras are triggered by the sound of the person speaking so as not to miss their comments, expressions and reactions. The result is a single, fluid stream (rather than multiple streams filmed on different static cameras), which easily transports the voice of the customer straight into the boardroom. Another advantage of having a single stream means that less time is spent consolidating and editing the video, leaving more time for the review and analysis of the insights gained. As with regular focus groups, however it is important to note the role of the moderator remains key in order to prevent participants speaking over one another.
In an age marked by considerable technological developments and advancements, it would be too simplistic to argue the death of focus groups. If anything, we are entering a new age of focus groups that are able to leverage various technological advancements, making them more accessible and arguably more relevant than ever in our ongoing quest to understand the minds and lives of consumers.