We’ll put our hands up and admit that prior to March 2020, Brand Vista had limited experience with online focus groups. Whilst various members of the team had dabbled with different software and community platforms, it was not a methodology we used often.
Cue COVID – In March 2020 the world turned upside down as did working life at Brand Vista. The Vistarites were no longer spending days out on the road conducting research. We were no long visiting theme parks and caravan parks or speaking to consumers in hotel meeting rooms, viewing facilities, and their own living rooms – instead we were stuck at our kitchen tables with a laptop!
However, the need to speak to consumers and tap into their inner thoughts did not go away. We were mid-fieldwork with focus groups in Italy and the US, we had a new large scale international project for LEGO and countless projects in the UK forming as clients were eager to understand consumers in this new COVID world.
This is where we turned to online focus groups. After many hours practicing with different platforms, adapting our discussions and activities to online, and sharing moderating tricks and tips we honed and perfected our technique and last week we completed our 200th online focus group.
The advantages of conducting online research
We were rather sceptical to begin with. It felt as though making the move online was a ‘needs must’ situation, and we would get out of these groups what we could, but they would never quite match the impact of researching in person. However, over the months of adapting and evolving our approach, it became clear that there are some great advantages for clients in conducting research online and this methodology will firmly stay within our repertoire, adding yet another string to our bow!
Sharing our secrets to the perfect online group
How to avoid tech issues
We’ve all been there on an online video call when someone’s internet drops off, or someone doesn’t know how to unmute themselves!
- Problems can be prevented at recruitment stage by double checking that respondents were comfortable using the online platform prior to the group.
- Ask respondents to join 15 minutes early, any tech issues could be sorted before the group began.
Developing a good rapport
Rapport between respondents themselves and with the moderator can be harder to form online than in person.
- Take extra time at the start of the discussion to warm respondents up, get them talking and sharing with one another
- Use people’s names to make the conversation feel more personal - it’s handy that online their name is displayed!
Managing the conversation
When we first started conducting online groups we found that without more obvious non-verbal signals respondents were more likely to talk over each other.
- Reduce the number of respondents to 4 or 5 which allows conversation to flow better and for you to get deeper and richer insight as all individuals have their say.
- Frame questions and give clear direction to whom the question is aimed at (e.g. “Julia, what do you think about that?” or “This question is for everyone”
- In some countries (e.g. Japan) social deference can impact how comfortable respondents feel to talk without being directly asked a question. In these instances you can ask individuals questions using the names or to introduce a ‘raise your hand if you want to speak’ approach, or in some cases one on one interviews will work better.
We’ve been on a journey with online focus groups. Through our experiences we’ve learnt how to tackle and overcome the barriers that previously had put us off using them. Like many others, the pandemic has forced us to change and adapt how we do things and we’ve come out stronger, skilled up with a new methodology and a new approach to offer clients! Whilst we can’t wait to get back out on the road and face to face with consumers, we know that if needed we can always rely on online groups and still get the level of depth and insight that our clients look for.