Focus Groups are not (always) the issue

It is too easy to highlight any methodology by comparing it to focus groups - eg focus groups bad - twitter/neuroscience/ethnography/online good. You can replace the contrasting noun with whatever methodology is fashionable or new. (Though new gives us an opportunity to do things differently from before - we just don’t have to forget what we have learned in the past few decades). This simplistic opposition ignores the following:

Fit for task - no methodology is great for every brand, every business objective and every target group. There is a whole range of different ways to tackle marketing issues through research methodologies.

It’s a skill to observe as much as it is a skill to listen. - Being able to truly hear what is being communicated, through both non-verbal and verbal communication takes real skill, and is not the same as watching evening television. It’s also quite hard to observe, most people in situ just see what they are shown.

Qualitative is more than focus groups - if you think qualitative = focus groups you need to get out more; read more and experience more.

Any methodology can be done badly - if you think bad focus groups are painful, you might not have experienced really bad ethnography. Hours can pass by in an extremely clean house, with 18 client attendees, a large video camera, a translator and a very polite participant with lots of interested neighbours. Semiotics can be obtuse, communities can be very noisy, and neuroscience can be an expensive lesson in the obvious.

These same methodologies can transform businesses - it’s rarely (just) about the methodology. But it’s a human thing to attach to a methodology rather than to the underlying thinking that has happened.

Online qualitative doesn’t mean going back to direct questions - whether it’s qualitative or quantitative; there are valuable lessons learned over the last century about what does or doesn’t work.

This doesn’t mean focus groups are inherently good, or that we need more of them, rather the debate should be around methodology for purpose.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 3:15 pm and is filed under qualitative research. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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