Technology Delivers Research Wormhole

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Online focus groups are growing in popularity and can save time and money for marketing managers. A few key questions can help determine if online groups can work for your next qualitative research project -- and be up to 30% less expensive at the same time, according to Voccii, Charlotte-based research, brand and strategy firm.

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There are a host of reasons online groups make sense. Far flung geography, travel, unavailability of focus group facilities, sparse participant populations -- these are a few reasons why clients may consider going online with their focus group research.

The science fiction dream of ‘folding’ time and space to enable travel to galaxies far, far away today is a reality on a smaller scale for researchers using web technology. The ability to conduct online focus groups is collapsing geography, shortening schedules, and even saving money.

“Focus groups have been a powerful tool for gathering qualitative feedback from consumers for a long time,” noted Gayle Ireland, partner in Voccii, a Charlotte-based research, branding and strategy firm and an in-demand moderator with more than 25-years’ experience leading focus group research of all types. “But they are not inexpensive to run, and many companies we work with need to test product concepts and ideas in many geographically far flung markets. Especially in B2B environments, there may only be a few business clients in an area, and the ability to get several B2B customers in one room is unfeasible. At that point, you have teams of people travelling around the country and the costs add up. Online focus groups, growing in use and popularity, can sometimes solve logistical issues neatly.”

If you’re a marketing manager considering qualitative testing, the following questions can help decide if online focus groups might be efficient for you.

  • Is the market geographically diverse?
  • Are there only a few target participants in any single location (such as channel partners or other B2B target markets?)
  • Can the concepts or ideas be presented digitally or perhaps the topic requires no visual materials?
  • Does the product need to be tested in the consumer’s home before graduating to a focus group?
  • Do target consumers have difficulty traveling to a facility (shift workers, mothers with young children, single parents, customers with mobility issues, etc.?)
  • Do employees in different branches that need to be in a single discussion group (for internal concept or idea testing?)
  • Are target buyers in a locale where focus group facilities are not available, such as in rural areas?
  • Do I (or my team) need to observe the discussion in real time?

If the answer is yes to some or all of these questions, online focus groups may be your new wormhole to collapse time and space.

So what are the pros and cons of online research? Ireland cautions that when it comes to direct costs, online groups won’t look all that much less expensive, but some hidden expenses can be avoided.

“You still need your research design, discussion guide, participant recruitment, technology charges for the online service you’ll be using, and analysis and reporting. It’s those less obvious expenses where you’ll save,” she noted. “Moderator travel, client travel, team travel, snacks and food for groups, and the cost of ‘time away’ from the office to travel – all these really add up, and that’s what you’ll save.”

Ireland estimated that these hidden costs can contribute up to 25-30 percent to the total cost of the research – and that’s not even factoring time away from the office for senior managers.

“We’re able to conduct online groups in multiple regions for our clients. As the moderator, I don’t have to leave the office, my client doesn’t need to travel, and product teams can more easily and cost- effectively sit in on the group via their computer. Even the respondents have an easier time, because they are all online too, sitting the privacy of their own home or office. And everyone can participate from anywhere they have an internet hookup.”

“There are always trade-offs. Some research demands in-person testing. Products that need to be touched, tasted or in some manner directly experienced to obtain appropriate feedback, need to be done in person,” she explained. “Sometimes, group dynamics, facial nuances and body language are really important. If we’re testing a challenging concept, and the moderator is going to need to pursue conversations threads on the fly, it’s easier to do that when you’re in a room with people.”

For agencies and clients pressed to become more strategic in every part of their business, Voccii combines the best of market research with strategic insights, branding and consulting. Voccii reports the “what,” the “so what,” and predicts the “what’s next.”

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Nancy Irwin
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