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Focus Groups

Since the 1920s, focus groups have been a part of marketing research and budgeting for strategy and product development. However, our products are far more sophisticated than they were even a decade ago, and the marketplace is a more complex animal. That’s why it makes sense that our market research methods should evolve along with them. Strangely though, focus groups have remained the go-to market research strategy. Here, we’ll lay out some reasons for you to abandon the familiar, yet outdated, focus group.

Focus Groups are Slow

If you’ve ever tried to organize any event with a significant number of participants, you know how much work it takes to get people to commit to an in-person appointment. You need to set a date, contact individuals, wait for them to respond and hope they agree to the plan.

For example, did you know that out of two million seniors eligible for an annual Medicare wellness visit, only about 100,000 actually went to that appointment? If people are lax about their own healthcare, they can’t be expected to pour excessive energy into market research.

Assuming at least some of the invited participants will experience scheduling conflicts, you’ll end up spending even more time gathering participants than you do the focus group session itself.

Once everyone is in the room discussing the topic at hand, you’re still only at the beginning of the research process. The review and analysis of the research happens afterward, and can take up to three months.

When you’re under the wire to get a new product released, you need a research method that can keep up with today’s fast-paced market and increasingly complicated customer demand. For this reason, focus groups are becoming an outdated solution.

Focus Groups Often Don’t Create the Entire Picture

Researchers in focus groups work with a very small number of people, meaning they end up with a minimal sample set of their target audience, despite spending a significant amount of money on the project.

If you only have the qualitative data of 10 or 15 participants, it’s unlikely you’ll get an accurate measure of your wider market.

Another missing piece is how researchers gather information in focus groups. If you’re not watching what participants don’t say (for example, reading between the lines of what they do say, so to speak), you’re missing out on important insights.

Not all focus group researchers are trained in this skill; on the same note, focus groups don’t always lend themselves to an environment where it’s easy to track individual behavior. It’s important to be prepared for what can happen in focus groups that influence individuals, like when inhibited group members don’t speak up or when some participants are influenced by the group.

Focus Groups are Costly

Focus groups run up a bill not only because of the time they require, but also because they are costly endeavors. As this kind of research is typically outsourced to consultants, you incur that expense as well, shelling out $4,000 to $6,000 per session.

The focus group method is also costly because you can’t afford a product fail based on the feedback of such small samples.

In an earlier post, we discussed some recent product fails, including Google Chromebook, which perhaps could have been avoided with the right research. Better research in this scenario may have predicted, for example, the widespread consumer desire for products like a hard drive for games and work software, and features that address security concerns.

Such a mismatch between market segmentation and product vision is avoidable with a bigger picture drawn from the proper qualitative research.

What Can Replace the Focus Group?

Agile qualitative research is today’s answer to outdated focus groups. Some of those methods include surveying and recording behavior of participants in the comfort of their home as they respond to prompts, or doing the same out “in the wild” as they go through their day.

Because it can be conducted remotely, you save time and money on logistics, and witness participants’ reactions in realistic environments. Lower overall costs mean you can greatly expand the size of your panel.

The advanced technology that comes with companies that perform this type of qualitative research also allows for analysis that presents huge time savings. Where a 30-minute video used to require 45 minutes for viewing and tabulating, for example, this technology can slash that time down to 15 minutes.

While it’s true that the focus group was a foundation for the qualitative research we know today, we’ve evolved. Agile qualitative research can help you effectively scale your customer insight and bring better products and strategy to market, faster.

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About Malcolm Stewart

Mr. Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of YouEye, Inc. For over 20 years, he has propelled growth for prominent technology firms as a senior executive, board member, and investor. Prior to joining YouEye, Stewart served as VP of Strategy at Avaya, Director of Strategic Planning at Microsoft, and VP of Corporate Development at Verio. Mr. Stewart earned a Juris Doctor from Boston College and a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science from the University of Southern California.