Conducting a Focus Group? 11 Reasons to Move It Online

  • Darshan Mehta
  • August 1, 2017


It’s every child’s favorite question, every parent’s greatest irritant, and every business leader’s constant quest. It’s what every consumer asks himself before buying (or walking away from) a product.

The need to know why is universal. Yet entrepreneurs often struggle to understand why users might need their products and services. Some send out surveys because they’re cheap and familiar, but surveys can’t dig deep enough. Others, worrying about a host of other entrepreneurial issues, forget to focus on the customer’s “why” at all.

It’s a shame. Customer truths are out there just waiting to be discovered with the right methods. If entrepreneurs and forward-thinking executives opened their eyes to affordable alternatives such as online focus groups, they’d minimize the risks of bringing untested, untried, and unwanted products to market.

In a nutshell, that’s why I founded iResearch. My goal was (as it is now) to help business leaders dive deeply into their customers’ minds. As a strategist and researcher, I realized that pain points, motivators, triggers, and other insights could all be had without the time and costs associated with in-person focus groups.

Why Online Focus Groups?

Never tried online focus groups? Using them to get to customers’ “why” brings 11 essential benefits:

1. Logistical savings

The clock is always ticking for the entrepreneur. Every market is a race to understand the customer better than the competition, and operating on hunches isn’t the way to win: The voice of the customer is critical.

One option is to fly the customer out for a face-to-face conversation. Prepare to pay for transportation, lodging, food, video and audio recording, and transcription costs. The other is to engage him or her with an online focus group, producing all the insights with none of the costs. Easy choice, right?

2. Improved agility

Test on Tuesday; implement on Wednesday. Measure the results and repeat. Sound appealing? Online focus groups provide instantaneous feedback, expediting product iterations.

When the American Society of Civil Engineers wanted to sharpen its legislative messaging prior to a pending vote, it used the iResearch insights platform. By talking to key members around the world, it was able to quickly update its talking points to better represent its 150,000 members in nearly 200 countries.

3. Rich and detailed insights

Crowded in-person focus groups can frustrate participants, who feel like they can’t get a word in. When they drop out, they drive up costs for the sponsor. Online focus groups, however, use written response methods that allow respondents to “talk” simultaneously without interruption. Plus, their answers spark rich, thoughtful conversations that help entrepreneurs better understand participants’ personalities.

4. Hard-to-reach participant engagement

Some individuals are notoriously difficult to recruit for focus groups, particularly doctors, lawyers, and C-suite executives. Online sessions fit better into their hectic schedules. Busy or geographically distant professionals are much more likely to participate in a session that they don’t have to spend hours traveling for.

5. Anonymity assurance

Face-to-face focus groups can be intimidating. Especially when probing sensitive issues like race, age, and gender, uneasy participants can skew results. Abbott Laboratories solved this challenge by conducting an iResearch online focus group among a select group of 69,000 employees working across 150 nations. Without the total anonymity of an online session, hierarchical pressures would’ve hurt the validity and overall value of its results.

6. Personality dominance avoidance

A dominant participant can destroy a focus group’s flow by interrupting others and influencing responses. Online, however, each participant has the chance to compose and share his true views. In fact, moderators using the iResearch platform can discretely ban disruptive users without interrupting the conversation or alerting participants.

7. Bias elimination

Online focus groups eliminate problems inherent to face-to-face sessions where participants (intentionally or not) judge one another based on age, race, gender, height, weight, clothing, social status, and more.

A recent U.S. Department of State online insight session, for example, focused on advertising to minorities. Had minority participants realized that the moderator was a different race, racial bias could have compromised the feedback and entire study.

8. Uninterrupted client interaction

In a room full of people, direct interaction between moderators and clients can be challenging. Online, it’s a non-issue. Discussions are never disrupted because technology creates a seamless experience for everyone involved.

9. Global accessibility

Have customers around the corner? How about around the globe? Either way, it’s not a problem for online focus groups. Not only can participants join from anywhere, but clients can watch conversations unfold from their desks in real time. What’s more, attendees can contribute in their own language, preventing language barriers from blocking insights.

10. Project consistency

Larger studies often require multiple focus groups, but differing moderators can create inconsistencies. Because online focus groups eliminate travel needs, a single moderator can easily conduct every session in the series. No travel costs and seamless scheduling make online moderation a breeze.

11. Instant transcription

With traditional focus groups, the sponsor either has to transcribe the conversation in-house or send the audio file for third-party transcription. But with online focus groups, written correspondence is immediately downloadable, searchable, and sortable. Sponsors can analyze findings quickly with zero wait time.

World-class technology has made it easier than ever to get to the user’s “why.” No longer do business leaders need to worry about far away participants, domineering personalities, or steep costs. If those aren’t ample reasons to move to an online model, I’ve got just one question: Why?


Darshan Mehta is the CEO and founder of iResearch, an online insights platform that enables companies to quickly, easily, and affordably extract insights from consumers or employees worldwide. Drawing upon more than 20 years of marketing strategy and research design experience, Mehta is authoring a book, “Getting to Aha! Today’s Insights Are Tomorrow’s Facts,” to help business leaders understand and leverage changing consumer preferences.

In addition to his full-time role at iResearch, Mehta is an adjunct professor at universities based in Thailand, Sweden, France, and the U.S. Through the course of his work, Mehta has traveled to more than 80 countries.

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