Focus groups have long been a crucial part of qualitative market research. Using virtual focus groups in qualitative research helps you gather crucial attitudinal data about your audience that is more in-depth than a survey or other types of quantitative methods. At the same time, they allow you to reach more demographics and gather more opinions than one-on-one interviews could. Yet too many organizations fail to take advantage of this important research technique. That is because these groups can be expensive, complex to organize, and difficult to administer. Do it wrong, and you incur group think or lead your participants in a way that makes much of the data you gather unusable.

Using Virtual Focus Groups In Qualitative Research Methods

Fortunately, opportunities are rapidly expanding. Across industries, focus groups are becoming more common as a way to gauge audience attitudes, preferences, and predicted behavior. One significant reason: the rise of virtual focus groups. Through chat rooms and video conferencing, organizations can now tap into audiences in a way that in-person groups simply cannot. For a variety of reasons, this type of qualitative research has become increasingly attractive for brands across industries. We want to dive in deeper. In what scenarios can you actually and tangibly benefit from this type of research methodology? Here are five situations that call for using virtual focus groups in qualitative research to optimize your audience understanding.

A Limited Budget

As with any other aspect connected to business operations, online focus groups come with a simple advantage compared to their in-person counterparts: they cost less. You will not have to pay for any venue or any types of travel costs that would otherwise be required for successful administration of the group.

To be sure, costs still exist. Depending on your audience and methods of administration, you might have to account for miscellaneous costs such as video equipment and more. Those costs, though, tend to be less than they would be considering everything that is involved in getting your audience on campus. For companies on a limited budget, that means an ideal opportunity to gain valuable market insights without having to break the bank for it.

Significant Time Constraints

Ideally, you take plenty of time for your market research. You lay out a comprehensive strategy that includes both qualitative and quantitative methods and plan them over the course of a few months to maximize the insights you gain from your research. Too often, though, that theory is not possible in a real-life environment.

Instead, you might have to launch a new product with minimal notice. A PR crisis requires you to gauge audience attitudes toward different types of responses. A failing marketing strategy requires re-evaluation of your tactics quickly to avoid wasting budget on channels that no longer work.

All of these scenarios, in addition to countless other possibilities, require quick adjustments in your strategy. Ideally, that adjustment should be made based not on a hunch, but reliable audience data. Online focus groups are much quicker to administer than their in-person counterparts, in large part because logistics are significantly easier. They allow you to conduct quick yet reliable market research even on significant time constraints.

Limited Diversity in Past Groups

The first two scenarios above are common reasons why organizations do not conduct many focus groups to begin with. Unfortunately, a large number of businesses also go away from this research method having already tried it, often because of failed or insufficient results that led to sunk cost in the past.

A common problem of focus groups is the lack of ability to find an accurate cross-section of your intended audience. Location, travel restrictions, and scheduling issues lead to companies having to rely on individuals who can make it all work, rather than the segment that most represents their stakeholders. With a virtual focus group, that does not have to be the case.

In fact, one study found that “virtual group participants were more geographically diverse… and more likely to be non-white, less educated, and less healthy.” In other words, they tend to have more potential in terms of audience representation. If you have moved away from traditional focus groups because of limited diversity, virtual alternatives may present the solution for your needs.

A Need for Tech-Savvy Opinions

Depending on your industry, you might also need to focus on another very specific advantage of these types of focus groups. While more diverse in almost every respect, online groups tend to be more technology savvy than their in-person counterparts. That makes intuitive sense: someone willing to share their opinion about a brand or organization online will likely be familiar with the environment.

That, in turn, allows you to leverage your audience. Especially if your product or service is based on technology, you will have an opportunity to tap into a knowledgeable group of potential stakeholders. Moreover, it does not end there: if your offer consists of virtual products, you can even allow for real-time testing of its features and benefits with a built-in feedback mechanism in a way that in-person focus groups simply do not allow.

A Need for Larger Sample Sizes

Finally, we arrive at the age-old question and dispute between quantitative and qualitative research. Ultimately, of course, you need both. However, what is more important for your objectives: an accurate cross-section of your audience, or in-depth responses that

Focus groups have always tended to be on the latter end of the spectrum. With online components, that does not necessarily have to be the case. While they still allow you to get the in-depth responses you need to gain tangible insights, they also help you increase your sample size significantly beyond their in-person component.

For most in-person group, the average sizes tend to be between 5 and 10 participants. Anything larger, and it becomes difficult to plan and administer. However, with online focus groups, that limit can rise sometimes significantly, even up to 100 participants depending on methodology. The result is more data, which ultimately results in better insights.

Virtual Focus Groups that Drive Tangible Results

In short, virtual focus groups have the potential to benefit your business in a variety of ways. Whether you are looking to save costs or get research results quickly, this relatively new opportunity has the potential to help you stay within your restrictions while still finding actionable insights.

Of course, that can only be true if your focus groups are administered the right way. If you are not careful, the same potential drawbacks of in-person focus groups still apply. An incorrect sampling of your audience, leading questions, and other problems can still lead to results that are misleading or simply false when applied to your larger audience.

That is why it makes sense to work with a partner in administering your groups. The right research firm will be able to not just take care of the organizational hurdles, but also make sure that everything throughout the group is done correctly. You will get not just raw results, but an analysis of those results you can use for further insights. To learn more about partnering with a credible research firm that helps you leverage the full potential of using virtual focus groups in qualitative research, contact marketing research today.