What allows marketers to look into the minds and hearts of their target audience to know what will intrigue them into clicking, encourage them to buy, or even move them to become an active member of your online community? The business world’s answer to this challenge for decades has been one resounding solution: focus groups. Whenever you want the genuine emotional and intellectual responses to potential business and marketing decisions, all you have to do is ask. In the world of traditional marketing, imagining your audience will only take you so far, now with the arrival of virtual focus groups, the specifics of your customer’s opinions are no longer a mystery.

Virtual Focus Groups

Virtual Focus Groups vs Local Focus Groups

In past years, before video chat became something that everyone can do on his or her computers or mobile devices, the only way to get a spread of a dozen different responses across your audience demographic was to ask locals that fit the bill to gather in a little room to answer marketing questions. While this may be a good approach for small local businesses who only cater to the local community, in the modern global digital age, a group of locals just isn’t a realistic selection of your entire audience.

Fortunately, where technology created the communities that are too large to locally focus group, it has also offered a solution: virtual focus groups. Rather than requiring your group participants to gather in one physical place, you can use a virtual focus group platform to gather responses from people across the country or even across the globe, and you do not even need to provide snacks.

If you are still on the fence about this new approach to marketing research, let us outline a few of our favorite advantages of virtual focus group research.

Wider Demographic Sampling

The one major weakness of traditional focus groups is that it requires all the participants to gather in the same room. This means they all need to be within reasonable driving distance from the facility, able to get themselves there, and then actually make it to the designated room in time for the study. As a result, you can either study only people from a specific region or host dozens of traditional focus groups all over the country, multiplying your expense.

With virtual focus groups, you have the opportunity to make a recruit of anyone with a computer or video-chat capable mobile device. This allows you to access your entire customer demographic built through online storefronts and social media marketing instead of just the people who live nearby.

No Venue Cost or Scheduling Conflicts

For those hosting a focus group, there is another layer of hassle that the participants hardly think of arranging the location. Whether you intend to host them in your offices, a rented conference room, or a specialized focus group facility, you still need to make sure every one of your focus group participants can get to the location at the necessary time. This adds yet another limitation to your ability to recruit participants, as you can now only study those who have the right afternoon free and can physically make it to your facility.

With a virtual focus group, you are much less likely to have those you invite decline because they have a scheduling conflict or can’t make it out to your location. In fact, you can even double-book with some participants who are physically at home waiting for the plumber or watching their kids but can easily get involved virtually.

Participants are Comfortable in Their Environment

If you have ever run a focus group before or watched on managed by professionals, you may have noticed that several of the participants often look uncomfortable about being in a little room with a dozen other people answering random questions. It is not the questions that bother them, most people love to take quizzes and offer their opinions, it is the environment. Virtual focus groups allow each of your participants to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible in their environment where they will not feel intimidated or unnerved by an unfamiliar place. You can even make sure your participants are relaxed by reminding them to get somewhere comfy and familiar.

No Need for Travel, Badges, or Refreshments

In the business world, any time you invite someone to a space that you control, it is courteous to help them find their way to the venue, give them guest badges for identification and security, and to offer refreshments in case they skipped lunch. While dodging these responsibilities is by no mean the goal of virtual focus groups, the fact that you are inviting people to join you online from their locations does mean that these traditional costs simply aren’t an issue. That said, offering virtual snacks as a joke might be just the trick to lighten the mood before the study begins.

Avoiding Results Skewed by Peer Pressure

One of the biggest challenges of running any focus group is the fact that the participants often influence each other’s answers. Those who might have unique perspectives and still act on those personal feelings when shopping and making decisions will hide their responses if it happens to differ wildly from the group or seem like an unpopular opinion. Others who are undecided, a state that is useful for you to know, might temporarily say they agree with the strongest voices in the group to feel included.

If you want pure responses from a variety of demographic sources, this simply won’t do. Virtual focus groups allow you to keep your participants and their responses anonymous to each other while still gathering a great deal of data at once. If you do want to know how people will influence each other, as with social media community responses, simply make the group a shared chatroom instead. Flexibility is at the heart of virtual focus grouping.

Greater Accessibility for Handicapped Demographics

Even if you are careful to include people of every region, race, and creed in your focus group, there is one demographic that is almost always left out of traditional studies: the handicapped. People who have trouble leaving their homes, getting themselves to facilities, and navigating stairs often simply say no when invited to a physical focus group. However, if the only requirement is that they be able to log in and join a video chat, you are much more likely to get responses from the physically disabled members of your community, an all-too-often overlooked and under-targeted group of people.

Studying Real-Time Responses to Virtual Products

Another truly interesting benefit to using virtual focus groups is the ability to study their responses to virtual products. Whether you are testing a new website layout or want to know how smoothly people can pick up on using your new mobile app, you can use virtual focus groups and interactive analytics tools to see click-by-click how your focus group members interact with the product. At the same time, they can make comments and even hold a conversation about their feelings and thoughts on your product, providing an invaluable insight into the new user experience.

Shaping the Study Based on Instant Analysis

Finally, if you want to get advanced with your use of virtual focus groups, you can throw away the hour-long script and shape your entire group study on analytics created in the moment. Voice stress analysis, identifying pain points, and generating polls based on previous responses are all great ways to shape your focus group technique as the study goes on rather than having to wait a few days for results once the event is complete.

Whether you are building a new brand or looking to stay on the cutting edge of audience approval for a well-established enterprise, there’s nothing more effective than a focus group with a widely cast net. If you want to know what your target audience is thinking from California to Maine, and from Hawaii to Norway, a virtual focus group allows you to get answers from anyone anywhere across the world and use the results almost immediately. For more information about virtual focus groups or how to make use of them for your company and products, contact marketing research.