Are online focus groups worth it for market research?

Online focus groups can give you a lot of market research data in a small amount of time. But do they give valuable insight? Are they worth the time and effort?

April 1, 2019

As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to know where your product fits in the market. That’s why in today’s competitive business climate, brands can’t afford to be slack on their market research efforts - there’s sure to be a wiser competitor ready to blow you out of the water. 20% of businesses fail in their first year alone. Knowing who you’re selling to, where and how is vital to getting your products and services off the shelves - and keeping your business in the black. And one of the most effective ways to do this is by conducting market research to study your potential buyers. But what’s the best way to do market research?


What is market research, you ask?

Market research is the process of gathering and analyzing information that relates directly to your business, brand or product. Businesses use market research to help them make important decisions on how to position their products, or where - and who - to sell to. Market research takes many forms. There are lots of ways to reach your customers and find out how they feel about your brand and its products, and the insight is valuable.

Focus groups have long been a favourite for brands researching their place in the market because they’re a direct line between business and consumer that offer emotional insight into how the people who really matter - your customers - really view your business.


How do online focus groups work?

A market research focus group is a qualitative research method that brings together a group of people - usually from your target market - to discuss a subject. For your fairly priced garden shears company for stay-at-home dads with green fingers, this could mean bringing together a group of middle-aged men with a passion for gardening to ask them important questions about how and when they use your products, what they think about the pricetag and whether they’d recommend you to a friend. This is all very useful information for your company, and usually focus groups are a place of stimulating conversation that can help you move forward with your market positioning.


Qualitative data comes from online market research focus groups


In the digital age, everything is online, including the up-and-coming online focus group. Thanks to advances in technology such as group conferencing software, the session is held completely remotely, with attendees dialling in from home. How does this affect the focus group itself? It takes away from the intimate setting of a real-world session, which could be limiting to free-flowing conversation and rapport. This begs the question: are online focus groups really worth it for market research? Can you really stimulate valuable conversation virtually?


Is an online focus group worth it?

Focus groups serve to collect qualitative data - that’s the qual-ity content that gets to the bottom of how your target market respond to your product or service. Their success depends on the quality of the conversation; everything from the questions asked to the market research participants’ background and attitude directly affects how well the session represents and fairly evaluates your market.

Online data collection methods like online focus groups are a great way to widen the scope of your market research focus group - you can fit a whole lot more virtual people into an online focus group than you can get real research participants into a room, that’s for sure. Sample size matters. The more people you hear from, the more likely you are to spot trends in responses and truly learn from the session. Holding a market research focus group online is much easier than getting your group together in person, so you’re asking less of your group while saving yourself time and effort. And I don’t know if you noticed, but people are really open to giving feedback online - from Twitter to Yelp, those online reviews come in thick and fast, so what’s the harm in inviting feedback and conversation around your brand in an environment you can monitor?


Market research participants in online focus groups


There’s obviously a downside to online focus groups. Not everyone is who they say they are on the Internet, and that can put the integrity of your market research at risk.

Ask yourself: how can you be sure the responses you’re getting from this online group are truthful? Do market research participants get paid for their time? How can you know they’re truly a part of your target market? It’s a weird world out there on the web, and anyone could be at the other end of the connection. For market research to truly be valuable to your business, you really need to get to the truth, and that means taking control of your focus group where possible. Realistically, when it comes to reliability you’re letting go of most of that control, so the reliability of the data you get back isn’t promised. Can you afford to take that risk in this climate?



Online focus groups are a great way of using technology to broaden the scope of your qualitative data collection, and truly get a huge sample of data to power your market decisions. After you’ve collected your data, automated transcription services like Trint will give you text transcripts in minutes, ready to be categorized and analyzed for actionable business insight.


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