Going digital is the norm these days, so does it make sense to conduct focus groups online rather than face to face? Let us explore the pros and cons of online focus groups.
Focus Groups in a Digital Age
According to the Marketing Research Association, “a focus group is the meeting of a small group of individuals who are guided through a discussion by a trained moderator (or consultant). The goal of the focus group is to get beyond superficial answers and uncover insights on consumer attitudes and behaviour.” Focus groups are commonly used in the early stages of marketing inquiry and concept testing or when working toward the development of an ad campaign, (Iacobucci, 2014). As physical boundaries become less evident in the fabric of our society and increasingly people are more comfortable than ever online, taking the traditional face to face focus group online is something to be considered.
The Online Focus Group Process
Typically, to start an online focus group a moderator invites pre-screened, qualified respondents who represent the target of interest to log on to conferencing software at a pre-arranged time and to take part in an online focus group- this will generally go for 60-90 minutes. As with face to face focus groups, the moderatorguides the discussion using a combination of predetermined questions and unscripted probes. Ideally respondents interact with each other as well as the moderator in real time to generate deeper insights about the topic.
Pros of digital focus groups
Fewer geographic restrictions. Respondents may be located on opposite sides of the country or even opposite sides of the world, resulting in increased geographical data to be collected.
Added feeling of anonymity . Increased anonymity can encourage participants to be more honest and forthcoming with their opinions with less influence from other participants.
Larger sample size. There is the potential for larger group sizes online, whereas face to face groups are usually limited to 8-10 participants.
Lower cost of facilitating. Less expenses with travel, audio/video recording equipment, transcription services and refreshments, allowlling the research budget to be extended significantly.
Application of results to online businesses. It makes sense that when you operate an online business, you want to use digital tools to learn more about your customers.
Cons of digital focus groups
Lack of non-verbal cues. Even with image and sound there is less interaction, an absence of physical contact and less perception of body language concluded Murgado-Armenteros, EM., et al. 2012.
Changed group dynamics. Slower group dynamics mean that moderators may need to intervene frequently and use a more structured and directive leadership style.
Increased potential for distractions. There is no guarantee that your respondents are not multi-tasking or otherwise dividing their attentions over the course of the session.
So is worth going online to save a few dollars?
Online focus groups have several distinct advantages over traditional in-person groups including enhanced participant anonymity and also increased geographical reach. Bruggen, E. 2009 suggest that results from online focus groups can still be rather superficial and there are limitations, but also notes that experts do also value the spontaneous reactions and interactiveness, and consider online focus groups very efficient.
Facilitating a focus group online certainly isn’t for all businesses, but some companies in some instances may find it beneficial. For those using online focus groups as a first port of call for new products, going online could be the answer, as it significantly reduces research costs and has the potential to quickly reach a larger sample size. The choice is yours.
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Carpenter, R. (2014). ‘Focus Groups: Marketing’s Oldest Technique Adapts to the Digital Age’ retrieved from, http://www.digitalcurrent.com/digital-marketing/focus-groups-in-digital-age/ , accessed 17 March 2016
Focus Point Global. (2015). ‘7 Pros and Cons of Conducting Focus Groups Online’ retrieved from, http://www.focuspointeglobal.com/7-pros-and-cons-of-conducting-focus-groups-online, accessed 16 March 2016
Iacobucci, D. (2014). Marketing Management (MM), 4th Edition, South-Western, Cenage Learning, Mason
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Murgado-Armenteros, EM. et al. (2012). ‘Differences between Online and Face to Face Focus Groups, Viewed through Two Approaches’, Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research ISSN 0718–1876 Electronic Version Vol. 7 Issue 2, August 2012 page 73-86, retrieved from http://www.scielo.cl/pdf/jtaer/v7n2/art08.pdf, accessed 16 March 2016
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