Every so often the headlines will be all abuzz claiming that focus groups are dead, or outdated, or pointless. And yet, focus groups remain a go-to methodology for qualitative researchers to better understand concepts, experiences, opinions, and insights about consumer choices and behavior.
Some of the articles that claim that focus groups are no longer relevant point to all the data that researchers now have at their fingertips that don’t require in-person focus groups. While it’s true that there’s more readily-available data for researchers to access, without contextualization, the data can easily be misinterpreted or confusing.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal does a great job spelling out “Why Companies Shouldn’t Give Up on Focus Groups.” Many of the examples cited in the article show how companies tried to swap data for meaningful insights into consumer behavior, only to discover that the data wasn’t well understood without talking to customers.
Focus groups aren’t the only way to connect with users, or potential users of a product or service. To be sure, researchers often employ other effective methodologies such as mobile ethnography, in-depth interviews, observation, and journaling. Each qualitative study is unique, and depending on the objective, researchers decide which methodology is most appropriate to use. Often, more than one methodology is used. For example, it isn’t uncommon to tandem focus groups and in-depth interviews, or mobile ethnographies and in-depth interviews, or focus groups and observation.
Qualitative studies require context, which is why researchers may first start by gathering passive data about consumer patterns, and then follow up by testing various hypotheses in focus groups or interviews. The bottom line is there is no better way to understand consumers than by talking with them and observing them.
With Covid-19 restrictions waning, researchers are really excited about resuming in-person focus groups.