With little chance of in-person meetings involving medium-to-large groups resuming this year, and the conference and events industry—long relied upon as a host to focus-group testing companies—not expected to return to full operation until spring 2022, what does this mean for the future of focus groups?
Luckily, consumer focus-group testing and market research is one sector that has pivoted to the virtual space, enabled by video conferencing software and the adoption of digital communications across generational groups and regions.
While conducting consumer focus-group meetings virtually has been done for years, this trend has accelerated with the pandemic, and as a result, the many advantages of hosting focus group participants in a virtual space have surfaced—all of which have the ability to make consumer research more accessible and more insightful for brands.
|Read how consumer focus groups can be used for package design research.|
Here are five ways virtual focus groups can make a real difference to brands:
1. Mitigation of third-party influence. Perhaps most interestingly, online focus groups—which afford less opportunity for informal chat between small groups of participants—may deliver more authentic outcomes due to decreased social pressure. The virtual environment can, for some, have the effect of emboldening people in their opinions. While research in this area is still limited, we know from previous studies that people with unpopular opinions, or less confident participants, may be reluctant to share their views in a group context. This is likely to be mitigated by the online environment, where people are less concerned about social pressure and the reaction of others when airing dissident or challenging views.
2. Lower carbon footprint. For brands tracking their CO2 footprint as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility commitments, asking fewer staff and participants to travel in order to physically attend a meeting can help shave tons off the brand’s gross carbon footprint. Environmentally responsible choices can also encourage more participation among groups such as Millennials and Gen Z, and specific groups of individuals who demonstrate care for the environment as a key driver of behavior.
3. A diverse pool of participants. Although meetings may occur at a set time, holding the focus group virtually means that participants can dial in from practically anywhere. This opens the door to wide-ranging groups such as side hustlers, part-timers, stay-at-home parents, retirees, expats, etc. The list goes on and on. You may be interested in investigating your product’s likely performance among a specific demographic, or conversely seeking a more diverse cross-section of the population; virtual focus groups can help you cast your net wider and gather more insight from a previously untapped consumer base.
|Another process that has gone digital during COVID-19 is FATs. Learn more in this video.|
4. Better attendance rates. Punctuality is a common challenge among focus group organizers. Latecomers walking into your session can be very disruptive when a group discussion is in full swing. Since in most cases joining a virtual focus group is as simple as logging into the virtual meeting, this is likely to improve attendance (technical glitches notwithstanding). In the COVID era, virtual focus group attendance may be more likely affected by childcare responsibilities than to be delayed because of a traffic jam en route.
5. Lower costs. Keeping costs low is high on the mind of every financial director or controller, and the big-ticket expense associated with consumer research can render it out of reach for emerging brands. As an alternative, virtual focus groups deliver better value for the money. For example, the costs associated with hiring meeting space, as well as complimentary meals, snacks, and drinks, and travel expenses no longer drive up the tally.
By improving the quality of data and lowering costs, virtual focus provide brands with a unique opportunity to incorporate focus group-based consumer research into the process of bringing products and services to market.
Brands that manage to make this a routine practice can increase their familiarity with the ways in which qualitative data is leveraged to build their brand more effectively.
When considered in the context of post-COVID recovery, when more must be done with less and understanding shifting consumer behaviors and motivations is critical, a brand’s ability to take a robust approach to consumer research and focus group testing does not just carry potential in terms of a single product or range, but the impact of research in this moment could also have far-reaching effects, changing the brand’s trajectory for years to come.
Marjorie Murphy is VP Client Service UK/IE/AUS & Strategy Director at Equator Design.