Focus Group Evolution

“After working with the team from qSample, we decided to move all our survey research to online, and now we are able to conduct research fast, with less expense, and with more accurate samples than ever.” Jim Kitchens, Ph. D, President of The Kitchens Group.

After realizing that using online and mobile technology for gathering insight is more efficient and faster than the traditional ways of conducting in-person research (or even on the phone), many qSample clients have embraced new virtual options offered for their quant and qual needs.

qSample blends both qualitative and quantitative research to provide the most comprehensive research solution for its clients. The ability to conduct online focus groups using a custom online chat platform takes advantage of both methodologies. As a result, clients receive respondent data in more detail. This process also allows the researcher to cross reference quantitative data when conducting qualitative research.

Clients see success in the number of responses and the quality of the feedback received as well. There is no doubt about it: online options are less expensive, more time efficient and also often require less manpower to administer. In addition, online options bring benefits including the ability to gather more respondents and increased opportunity for communication throughout the process.

Social media has responded in kind. We as consumers can now take surveys on Facebook and survey sites and these sites make it easier to get questions out to the masses. We can vote, see other people’s responses, add commentary and review products and services online as well.

Focus groups are a great way to help find evidence when trying to prove or disprove a theory and even with a large number of research dollars earmarked for qualitative research, companies always look for ways to make that money work more efficiently. Focus groups do not aim to reach consensus on the discussed issues. According to Monique M. Hennick in her book, “International Focus Group Research: A Handbook for the Health and Social Sciences”, ‘focus groups encourage a range of responses which provide a greater understanding of the attitudes, behavior, opinions or perceptions of participants on the research issues’.

Focus groups started right after World War II when the military was researching how US soldiers were responding to the propoganda films made famous by Uncle Sam. Robert K Merton and Paul Lazarsfeld disagreed with the leading questions that were presented to the soldiers and developed specified criteria to gather nonbiased feedback from them. Merton’s resulting book, “The Focused Interview”, published in the 1950’s, became a guide for scholars and researchers in the area of market research.

Social scientists came on board with focus groups in the 1980’s and despite the fact that focus groups were initially developed as an academic research method, they have become more synonymous with market research (Jeremy Munday, 2006). Marketers realized that groups might hold a key to discovering how/why/when people buy, when they need services and how they like to receive and dissimilate information. This all, of course, impacts their buying decisions.

In the 1990’s, online surveys became popular and soon thereafter, marketers realized that there was even more potential for gathering feedback online.

When implemented correctly, online market research can help companies determine proper targeting of the market and discover opportunities that may not have been clear before. In addition it can help evaluate success of a campaign, service or product and help identify the need for a change in tactics.

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There are different types of focus groups. One of the most common types  – Instrumental Focus Group,  where the goal is to eject opinions, behavior patterns or knowledge. There are also Expressive Focus Groups, where the primary goal is the health and welfare of a participant (s). These groups are commonly held in the social services industries and in therapy or counseling venues.

How groups are structured varies greatly and is dependent on client request-as well as surveying recommendations to obtain the best feedback possible. Groups can range from completely structured/controlled to non-structured types; organized to receive responses to specific questions or more of an open-ended discussion. In a way, we start a focus group when we roundtable at work or conference call with other people to discuss a particular topic.

qSample often holds virtual focus groups in our customized chat rooms. The advantages of virtual versus traditional focus groups include:

Geographical – The location of respondents no longer matters so much, unless of course the client specifies that all respondents should be from a specific region or area. This allows marketers a larger group of respondents to pull from. In the area of attendance, virtual groups allow us to pull in feedback from professionals and executive who would commonly not have the time to participate.

Financial– The client can save money by using online options to hold focus groups. There are no longer costs for hotels, space to hold groups, production teams, recording equipment and more. The participant fee is commonly lower as well and all that’s necessary is access to a computer, which most of the population has.

Flexibility– Virtual survey and discussions can be much more flexible in both timing and format versus a traditional group. This is because the method can be applied to elicit information from any topic, from diverse groups of people and in diverse settings (Stewart, D.W., “Focus groups:Theory and practice, 2nd edition”). In addition, holding a group virtually may prevent biases amongst the participants and therefore skewed feedback.

Virtual focus groups also help with streamlining both projects and data. David Warwick, the President of iverificationservices.com says, “As we have completed projects with qSample, they have consistently helped us improve the projects and streamline the processes involved. Their advice and recommendations have improved the overall quality of the project objectives.”

To learn more about qSample’s online focus group capabilities, email inquiry@qsample.com

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