How Do You Do Digital Focus Groups?

Digital Focus Group research is a subject we’d really like to hear your thoughts and input on. Occasionally we commission unique Focus Groups to vet our digital content and distribution strategies. Usually digital is tested along with all other media in larger Focus Groups covering multiple cities and target segments. There are pros and cons to both.

Without delving into the merits or demerits of the Focus Group format, we find them beneficial and additive to our thinking on the whole. There’s always a gem or two of Insight that we can synthesize from participant attitudes and comments. And we expect to get a thematic “zinger” comment that flavors our understanding of the target or our proposition. An example of this is when exploring attitudes about where we could take a certain beverage category a few years back, one participant called it a “chick drink” in less polite terms and that moniker flavored our consumer understanding and marketing approach.

One of the challenges we face in digital is that many Focus Group facilitators, while comfortable with the advertising creative and media of traditional media–a familiarity developed over 60 years of representative experience–simply can not successfully moderate around digital and emerging platforms. We’ve consistently seen digital thinking represented in the “Integrated Media Focus Group” as flats or print campaign equivalents. Or, even in animated form, presented as a website and not as an element in a holistic digital marketing approach. It’s challenging to take the armada of activity around which we go to market and have most moderators–let alone consumers–be informed about various digital media and interpret feedback on digital. Without good interpretation, it’s difficult to get a feedback loop that drives to the most insightful places.

The reason we do less focus group research in digital is because we have the laboratory of real time data, A/B testing, instant SocialNetwork surveys, campaign qualitative research and search as a proxy for intention and needs. At the same time, we’ve yet to find a better substitute for a client to participate “behind the glass” with our team hearing directly from consumer groups what they think, what informs their opinions and how they’re willing to behave around a variety propositions.

So, here’s the request and challenge to you: Who are the best at directing in-person Focus Groups for Digital and/or what other alternatives to you use? Let’s use the comment section below to create our compendium of resources.

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2 responses to “How Do You Do Digital Focus Groups?

  1. Yes, I’ve found digital to be a bit out of the scope that most moderators feel comfortable delving into beyond the “conceptual” aspect of the creative.
    With that said, I think focus groups of web sites are not the best tool. The interaction within a site is very personal and the reason for visit can vary significantly among individuals. Therefore, a bunch of people broadly discussing their likes and dislikes comes off very disjointed. I think a series of one-on-one or two-on-one meetings are more useful to gain insight especially if architectural efforts are going to be explored in any way.
    Focus groups are great for conceptual discussions. Exploring attitudes and beliefs; great. Finding out why certain people want to use digital technology, how they use it, and what they would expect to gain from a particular technology are valid for groups. But you don’t really need visuals for that, just good recruitment to ensure the participants are actually digital users. If trying to assess whether a particular site is or will be effective, I’d opt for the more direct series of interviews to really see how individuals interact with the proposed solution.
    Now, time for thread creep. The real question I would raise is whether we should be exploring a more “native” way of engaging in dialog with people around their digital experience. The looming trend of micro-networking is completely changing the essence of marketing communication. Instead of “push”, we need to “engage”. In that environment, perhaps we need to re-think the tools we use to develop knowledge. I would submit that we need to recruit volunteers for the research and then have them “embed” us in their micro-networks so we can be a part of their digital lives. Find out what they are really talking about, and how their networks influence them and how they influence their networks.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. I would think that in digital a lot of what you would test is usability and UX. IA kind of stuff. Typically focus groups have been popular for products, positioning and advertising campaigns, softer kind of things. Yet, it seems that if marketers used social media to garner a better overall understanding of consumers, their judgment and instinct would be better honed and focus groups in all their artificiality would be less necessary.

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