In a focus group rut? Five online alternatives to try.

Posted November 28, 2012 in by

focus-groupEvery time your company has a need to hear the voice of the customer or an internal audience, does your leadership team say, “Let’s do a focus group!”? While focus groups are still a thriving research method, there are online qualitative methods you can try as alternatives to the traditional approaches that allow you to access participants in multiple geographic locations more effectively.

And in a time when marketing dollars need to work harder and stretch further, it’s essential to invest in multiple types of research to gather the consumer insights that will shape your decisions and continue to refine and improve your strategies.

Here’s a look at a few viable focus group alternatives to consider:

  1. Online chat: This forum can be an effective, more cost-effective approach to gain insight in a relatively short period of time. Online chat can be conducted in one-on-one or groups settings, and technology can also allow responses to be “blinded” — not allowing participants to see others’ responses before they post their own. Since online chat will lend itself to only certain top-of-mind responses that are easy to facilitate in text-only format, sessions tend to be shorter (60-90 min.) than traditional focus groups. To make the conversation even more meaningful, moderators can use multiple sources of data in their line of questioning, such as images, video or website links.
  2. Video diaries: Video diaries allow brands to quickly gather a “day in the life” perspective of their customers and prospects. Video diaries are much less time- and resource-intensive compared to traditional ethnographic approaches like home visits, and some feel it’s a way to gather richer data than focus groups because it captures true actions rather than forcing participants to recall experiences. While the collection of data may be quicker than traditional methods, it can take some time to review the video and analyze results. That said, there are lots of solutions (Qualvu is a good example) that manage the entire process, including data analysis.
  3. Online communities: Also known as Market Research Online Communities (MROC) by researchers, online communities can be a short- or long-term initiative for brands to gain insights from a targeted group of individuals. I like to think of it as similar to an advisory board, but involving up to hundreds of individuals in many geographic locations. Some brands will opt to build a temporary community around a single project or idea, while other communities remain open and are a continuous source of information. MyStarbucksIdea is an example of an online community that has achieved longevity and consistently gathers and strives to implement ideas from its community. Communispace and GutCheck are just two of many partners who can help brands establish and manage online communities. While the initial investment and setup resources can be quite intense, once it’s up and running, an online community can provide significant consumer feedback very quickly.
  4. Mobile research: With 87% of the world’s population now mobile subscribers, we are in a great position to leverage the power of mobile research. Its applications can range from simple SMS text messaging interactions to leveraging expanded mobile capabilities like video, QR code scanning and location-based data. These applications make mobile research extremely relevant for capturing “in the moment” ethnographic-type data in a short period of time. While you shouldn’t expect to gain the depth of information gathered in a focus group, it can provide very honest and unfiltered responses that the brand can act upon quickly.
  5. Social media research: If your brand has a presence on social media platforms, you already have a free research tool at your fingertips! Social media can provide really rich data about what your audiences care about — and researchers believe this can play a role in forming other qualitative research initiatives by helping to shape topics to discuss or questions to pose. Keep in mind you can’t define who engages with your brand via social media, which means you won’t be able to control the demographics of your population. Learn more about five cost-effective listening tools for social media research.


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