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Busy research buyers are sometimes tempted to skip watching focus groups. They may have put in more than a full day already; tonight’s groups might be one set in a marathon series – often, afterward, there’s a feeling of blurriness, especially if consumers seem to be consistent in their feelings on a given issue. Members of the research department might feel reluctant to issue broader internal invitations for fear of contributing to the “circus” aura that occasionally builds behind the glass. We think, though, that focus group observers are treated to something that they won’t get otherwise, even from the truest, most insight-enriched reporting or presentations. Not always, but sometimes (more than occasionally) individual focus group participants express sentiments, values, beliefs about your brand that are worth a thousand words. As researchers, we can identify, record, convey and even refine their ideas, but it’s hard to truly capture the emotional [...]

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People who are more familiar with handling quantitative data are sometimes unclear about how qualitative researchers interpret the data – yes, it is data – yielded by focus groups. If you are not familiar with interpreting qualitative data, your moderator’s selection of which comments to highlight and which to downplay may seem arbitrary or even biased. Why do moderators give more weight to what one respondent said yet seem to ignore others? In fact there are several kinds of data-validation techniques that moderators use to sift through and interpret focus group results. A good moderator will pick up on something a participant has said and ask them to explain “where that comes from” – in particular, he or she will be looking for their comment to be consistent with values or issues they have already mentioned, or, if they haven’t yet, to make the connection explicit. They “need your product [...]

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When we screen potential participants for traditional focus groups, we always ask them to assess some of their own personality traits to make sure they will be able to effectively participate in the discussion. We make sure they are comfortable sharing opinions in a group, able to clearly articulate their points of view and are not too shy or defensive. These are basic social skills that most people have, but not everyone has to the same degree. Now think about bulletin boards, chat rooms, or auto-biographical assignments using digital photos or videos. These methodologies demand a different set of skills from participants. In order to articulate their ideas and values in these media, participants will need to be: Good writers, rather than good speakers. From a bulletin board or other text-based medium, the essential nuggets of learning will come from people who are good writers. In the absence of body [...]

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Our clients have asked us how incorporating new technologies into qualitative research can save money, time, or both, on their projects. Experience has shown us that online bulletin boards, virtual focus groups, online journals or blogs, image or video diaries, or mobile research often do not deliver the expected time and money savings. You will almost certainly trim your travel budget. Clients and moderators can coordinate and conduct research right from the office. But online qualitative approaches are unlikely to be cheaper or faster overall. Costs for facilities and recruiting are often replaced by fees for use of the hosting software and access to panel respondents. Professional fees may be higher to compensate for more time spent managing respondents and analyzing results. Depending on your target group, extra time should be budgeted up front for explaining the process to participants and walking them through it, as there tends to be [...]

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While not always time- or money-savers, online qualitative research techniques have some exciting benefits. Qualitative research using technologies such as online focus groups, bulletin boards or mobile research can offer methodological breakthroughs that make it well worth exploring Participants no longer have to be selected based on geographical distribution, and can therefore be chosen based solely on attitudes, behaviors, interests, or other attributes. Both moderator and clients will be freed from a travel itinerary; thus research decisions regarding who, when, or how many can be based solely on what the research objectives dictate. Some online qualitative software allows moderators to switch seamlessly between group, individual, and closed or private interactions, which allows for deeper probing and follow-up as needed. You can have an open group discussion, or let people tackle a question separately, and “pull someone aside” to investigate their feelings privately, without biasing the others’ reactions. No stone need be [...]

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