Focus groups are the most widely used qualitative research tool, according to the Market Research Association, and with good reason. "They foster fruitful discussion and can provide unique insight into customers' and potential customers' needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings." Problem? Yes. Focus groups can be messy. Moderators have to contend with competing personality types, including dominant or reticent participants, and the dangers of "group think".
The Marketing Research Association isn't the only group to see some of the disadvantages of focus groups. Greg Cobb of IdeastoGo goes to far as to call focus groups creativity killers. Why?
- Too scripted - There are generally stakeholders present who would like feedback from the consumers while they have them captive. This leads to reaction without room for actual discussion.
- Too awkward - People are shy about expressing the full strength of their convictions or deepest motivations to a group of people they do not know. Dominant personalities speak, and others tend to just go along.
- Too short - Two hours, the time allocated for most focus group sessions, is hardly enough time for nine people to get comfortable with each other and explore the topic.
As a business blogging trainer, I was interested to learn that Joe McKendrick of SmartPlanet thinks social media can be used to replace focus groups, bypassing some of the disadvantages Cobb lists. How would that work?
McKendrick describes how the Mercedes-Benz community website is using social media to conduct consumer market research with consumers ages 20-45 who drive compact cards. With questionnaires, forums, ideation contests, comment areas, and ratings, Mercedes can test marketing materials and ads, finding out what features, support, and services customers want most.
While even the largest of my Say It For You blog clients is tiny compared to Mercedes-Benz, I couldn't help thinking that the idea of using blogs to perform a focus group functions could turn into a very feasible marketing strategy.
The "too short" problem wouldn't exist - blog readers would weigh in on their own time in the form of taking surveys, offering ideas or ratings, all good techniques to stimulate interaction with target customers.
The "group think" creativity-killer Greg Cobb describes in live focus group sessions would be bypassed as well, since "dominant" or "shy" participants would not be directly interacting. In fact, readers might be offered the opportunity to keep their responses confidential.
One way to increase response to online customer surveys is giving readers the chance to complete the entire survey in less than two minutes, says Bloggetvero. "Save open-ended text areas for the really meaningful questions," he adds.
Have you tried using the focus group function of your business blog?