Is the “Consumer Focus Group” Dead?


Ok so sometimes it feels like some of my respondents were dead, but does that really mean that as an approach to research that the focus group is dead?

I don’t think so, I know there are other ways and means by which to get out there and “explore the world and minds” of the consumer, but focus groups still offer us an invaluable tool to gather insights.

I know there is trend is to explore other research avenues, and that’s great, it helps feed the evolution of how we gather information, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes it’s just not suitable to do a more ‘ethnographic’ approach (and indeed sometimes it is not even required). Although I do miss the days of being able to run groups in a respondents home, having a sit round the living room with a bunch of women, drinking tea, eating biscuits and talking about what they but from the supermarket and why was always good fun, but alas health and safety regulation won’t allow it.

Clients are looking for more “sexy and exciting” ways of conducting qualitative projects, and that’s great, but the process should not be at the expense of the desired outcomes.

I’m all ears for WHY the focus groups is dead, but all I hear is the phrase with little or no evidence to back it up….

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11 Responses to “Is the “Consumer Focus Group” Dead?”

  1. Cath Boundy Says:

    Agree with your points Mr M, but I do think the focus group is over-relied on in research generally – it can only really give you a rear view mirror perspective (people often don’t know what they want or think until after its become a commercial reality, and some of the most successful products have died in the arse in groups).

    We also need more innovative research methods within the group setting… No matter which company I see running them, for which client, amongst which target group, they follow virtually the same order, format and dreary exercises that we were running 10 and 15 years ago.

    We need to encourage researchers to challenge traditional methods and create new ways of getting the same information. Respondents (and clients!) are increasingly marketing savvy…and bored!

    • macarthursmutterings Says:

      At last someone with an argument, and I absolutely agree with you in that we need to be more innovative with the research methods we use. But my point is that innovation can and should be taken into the focus group, we should not be using the “same order, format and dreary exercises”.

      Groups can be a great forum for exploring heuristic impact on behaviour within a category and also challenging non-rational decision making.

      I do not believe that groups cannot be used for measuring those decisions that are made non-rationally. That means, we should not always use a ‘logical and linear’ flow in our discussions. We can use techniques that work to get the respondents to think intuitively or chaotically. Such as “self moderated” groups, where respondents are left in a room whiles being recorded and given “tasks to complete” at timed intervals, tasks they have to conduct unaided. We, the researchers are behind the mirror observing behaviour and language.

      There are new techniques out there that allow us to explore psychological traits such as overconfidence, effects of limited attention and projection bias, where people exaggerate the degree to which their future tastes will resemble their current tastes, the responsibility is on us as researchers to push these new methods.

  2. N Hayes Says:

    I concur with both of you! It’s not the focus group that’s dead, often it’s the effort, foresight, thought, technique and methodology of the researcher that makes or breaks the value what has been ‘traditionally’ called a focus group in addressing the research question/objective.

    There will always be new methodological approaches, new fandangled snazzy names to the focus group and to other research techniques deemed to replace the focus group, think ‘community forum’ on-line, a ‘consumer workshop’, ‘break out groups’ to name a few (and probably dated names now). Does it really matter what we call it?

    What matters is that for many many years people bored with the ‘focus group’ have questioned it’s value and the over-reliance of the research world on it as a tool, however time and time again it is proven that it simply works.

    What is more important in todays world of research is where the focus group sits in the proposed research methodology and it’s relevance and potential value to the research question. Next one needs to determine what structure and context the traditionally considered focus group needs to take i.e. should it incorporate some ethnographic elements, should it be on-line, face to face, should it be participant or researcher moderated, should it be stimulus show and tell or present and try. Should it be the main methodology or a supporting methodology, dependent on the topic at hand of course.

    Ultimately what I am trying to say is if you consider the focus group 8-10 participants sitting around a boardroom table with a moderator and a video camera and some visual boards then you personally as a researcher SHOULD consider it dead because it is in fact BORING. It is not the basic concept of the focus group that is dead it is it’s application that is wavering in todays market research. In order to keep it’s ‘perceived’ and ‘actual’ value alive researchers need to apply new and innovative elements and techniques to the basic concept to adapt to an ever changing market for which ‘traditional’ methods are never going to be sufficent.

    A bad workman always blames his tools. A good workman never blames his tools.

  3. macarthursmutterings Says:

    see there is some thought out there on the matter, great reply

  4. Frankie Says:

    well I see that we all agree. FGDs will always remain, they are the bare bones of qual research, we just need to “dress them differntly”, make them evolve with the times and challenge indeed how they are used, when they are used and who they will be used with … do we really have to have homogenous people in a group or do we get more value out of hearing people argue their difference of opinion given where they come from? Do we need to have a flow or can we derive better how consumers think by piecing together a thinking process out of order? … I so agree that a group is just a tool and it’s the use you decide to have of it that makes it a good or bad tool!

  5. Sara Says:

    A focus group is just a group of people. What you do with those people is up to you. A group of people cannot intrinsically be boring (or interesting), useful or useless.

    Ditto ethnography.

    Ditto eggs, flour, sugar and choc chips.

    A focus group is an opportunity.

  6. MT Says:

    Is there room for the virtual and interactive focus group via the net? Or has that format already been explored and failed?

    • macarthursmutterings Says:

      This concept is still being explored I have actually had a couple of clients ask me about this in the past month or two, have you experience it much?

  7. MT Says:

    No, I’ve not seen or heard anything about it. But to me it seems to be the next logical (dare I say innovative) step in the way research can be done.

    Gen Y is completely able to have whole conversations via a net-based interface, for instance. It depends on your target audience, obviously, but the mechanics aside there must be a way to do it.

    I mean, we can’t be the only two who have thought about it.

  8. macarthursmutterings Says:

    We have done online qual where we have real-time discussion in a dedicated forum, we followed it up with a discussion board online which take a lot of time to make sure it works properly, a moderator has to be sure to go on several times a day to probe or post questions or the discussion just dries up, so it is very labour intensive, but worked

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