insights/market research industry has endured a lot of bad press from
innovators and thinkers, most memorably Steve Jobs: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times,
people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
from the beginning our industry has been up against a quote going even farther
back, to Henry Ford saying: “If I had asked
people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
so, we as an industry have tried to emphasize that qualitative research is not
about “asking people what they want.” It
is instead about exploring current behaviors, unmet needs, pain points, etc. It’s
about listening for preferences, dreams, wishes, frustrations and most
importantly, patterns that connect all of those behaviors and feelings to help
companies and brand offer new, improved, appreciated solutions and innovations.
do so, we engage people, talk to them, observe them and most importantly listen
to them. We do this one on one, in
groups, in-person, remotely and/or in-situ.
We do this synchronously and asynchronously. In traditional spaces and
creative ones. And we need terms for
traditional terms such as “focus group” can now sound antiquated, traditional
or stodgy. So, the industry has shifted
slightly to call them any number of things now, including: Group Discussions, Qualitative Group Discussions, Consumer
Connects, Think Tanks, VIP Panels, etc. This re-naming hopes to prevent
current techniques from being painted with an antiquated brush. We at KNow developed QIIs
(qualitative intercept interviews) in part to separate our
methodology from traditional clipboard-enabled mall intercepts, so we
definitely understand the impulse!
though, lies a bigger issue. Re-naming
alone cannot lift stigma, but careful implementation can.
do so, carefully assess when it’s best to talk to people in a group before
proposing a “focus group” (by that name or any other). Ask yourself
the following questions:
their day-to-day lives, do people talk about this topic naturally in groups?
people be able to accurately remember
their reality and share examples of
behavior easily with a group?
are the potential benefits of
discussing the topic in a group setting?
Will the group give you energy, collaboration, idea-building, team-work,
the ability to run mock debates or conduct team exercises that will bring the
feedback to life in a helpful way?
you benefit from an efficiency
standpoint? Remember, it’s much easier
to get a larger sample size in a shorter period of time if you talk to
participants in groups rather than individually. This is also important to
consider when you have limited stakeholder availability (e.g. the team can only
set aside one day to observe research and wants to hear from as many
participants as possible)!
the answer is “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to get creative and
consider other methods:
- Add a digital diary homework assignment to track recent behavior
- Complete the entire study on a digital discussion board or diary platform to track behavior in-the-moment.
- Consider one-on-one interviews to get individual feedback, uninfluenced by others. If there are time constraints consider shorter, laser-focused interviews and/or multiple moderators completing simultaneous interviews.
- Try mini groups with people who know each other. This works especially well with families or partners who make decisions together or friends who shop together.
- Employ a ‘funnel’ approach’ in which a larger group participates in individual interviews/activities/exercises and a smaller subset are chosen for a follow-up group discussion.
What else do you call
“focus groups”? Why are those names helpful? When do you have to change more than just a
name for the benefit of the project?