4 Focus Group Alternatives in Market Research

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Market research plays a pivotal role in guiding businesses toward informed decision-making and success. 

Traditionally, focus groups have been a reliable method for gathering valuable consumer insights.

However, the evolving landscape of technology, changing consumer behaviors, and rising expenses have spurred the need for innovative approaches that go beyond the conventional focus group setup.

In this blog post, we share the best focus group alternatives in market research that still provide businesses with the insights needed to better understand their target audience.

Ask our full-service market research company what methodology is best for your unique project goals, timeline, and budget. Contact Drive Research by filling out an online form or emailing [email protected].

What Are the Disadvantages of Focus Groups? 

Before diving into the different ways to gather feedback without investing in focus groups, let's discuss why focus groups aren't always the best market research option.

Oftentimes organizations look to focus group alternatives because of the following focus group drawbacks:

1. Limited sample size

This is a common gripe when it comes to focus groups. While this method is designed for a relatively small group of participants, this can be a deterrent depending on the topic. 

The number of participants rarely exceeds 10, with average ranges being anywhere from six to eight people. While this has its advantages, the smaller size limits demographic accuracy.  

Meaning, this small group can only represent so much when it comes to the preferences/beliefs of different groups. This is why it’s especially important to know your project goals before you choose a research method. 

While focus groups are tremendously useful, they’re not always the best fit based on needs. 

2. Group bias is more common

Group effect or bias is when participants agree with others when they actually have a differing opinion.  

Unsurprisingly, this has a negative effect on the data obtained because it’s inauthentic. 

What it comes down to is personality.

You may have a few very vocal focus group participants and a few quieter ones.

Consciously or subconsciously, the quieter participants may end up agreeing with the more vocal ones, even if they have a different view. 

In research methods where participants feel more autonomous such as online surveys, this is not an issue. 

As a result, it’s very important to consider the topic of your focus group and if participants would be comfortable having an open discourse. 

2. Increased costs and time

Focus groups are one of the more costly, time-consuming market research methods out there. 

With focus groups, organizations often have to budget for a facility rental and higher incentives.

On top of that, there is a lot of project management time for a focus group company to recruit participants and analyze their feedback after the group discussion. And as you know, time = money.

Below are other resource-intensive tasks and costs to be aware of when planning a focus group:

  • Participants: Focus groups will cost more as you add in more people. A focus group with six participants will cost less than one with eight or even 10.

  • The number of focus groups: Market research isn’t a one-and-done trick. Because of this, you’ll want to conduct more than one focus group. The more you conduct, the more it will cost.

  • Incentives: Participants need to be compensated fairly for the time they took off to be a part of the focus group. Depending on how much time they offered, incentive prices can go up.  

  • Prep: Planning a focus group revolves around a number of different factors. How many participants will there be? Has a facility been chosen? These are just a few of the beginning stages of a focus group that can take time. 

  • Research: As there’s more than one focus group session, the data collection stage is time-consuming. Focus groups are roughly an hour to two hours long, and when you add in multiple sessions, the hours rack up.

  • Analysis: Carefully analyzing the focus group feedback takes time, plain and simple. For this step, the research team will ensure the responses are high-quality and helpful for the client. 

Recommended Reading: How Much Does a Focus Group Cost?

Focus Group Alternatives to Consider

By embracing alternatives to focus groups, companies can tap into a broader spectrum of perspectives, enhance data accuracy, and streamline the research process.

From cutting-edge digital tools to immersive virtual environments, below we explore various market research options that leverage technological advancements to gather qualitative and quantitative data.

1. Online Focus Groups

Over the past few years, online focus groups have taken the market research industry by storm. They carry many of the same benefits of a traditional focus group however, the group discussions are all conducted remotely - leading to the following benefits.

Lower costs

The reason some organizations are conducting online focus groups as an alternative to in-person focus groups is that they are highly cost-effective.

For instance, there are zero costs associated with renting a facility such as fees for the room, food and beverage, and on-site staff.

Additionally, qualitative recruiting costs are reduced because you are not limited to the geography surrounding a focus group facility.

Greater access to focus group participants 

Let's say a national shoe brand is in the process of designing its Spring collection but first wants to conduct a focus group to gain feedback from target consumers.

As a result, they contact their local focus group company in Syracuse, New York to recruit and host the group discussions.

The shoe brand shares that all participants must be Black males, aged 18 to 25, and have purchased shoes in the past 6 months.

Because the focus group company is limited by the potential qualifying sample living in the Syracuse designated market area, the recruitment costs will be higher.

If the shoe brand conducted the focus groups remotely, the market research company can find qualified participants from across the country.

The sample becomes dramatically higher, therefore costs to conduct market research become lower.

In the video below, our market research company covers more benefits of online focus groups as an alternative to in-person focus groups.

2. Text Focus Groups

Another great alternative to in-person focus groups is text focus groups, where participants engage in discussions through text-based platforms or chatrooms.

These virtual environments enable participants to express their thoughts, opinions, and experiences in a written format, fostering open and honest discussions.

Text focus groups offer several advantages over in-person sessions such as:

  • Eliminate geographical limitations: Text focus groups allow participants from diverse locations to come together without the need for travel. This expands the potential pool of participants, leading to greater demographic diversity and a wider range of perspectives.

  • Reduce group bias: With text focus groups, participants have equal opportunities to express themselves, encouraging more introverted individuals to contribute and ensuring a more balanced discussion.

  • A comfortable and anonymous environment for participants: Text focus groups alleviate social pressures and biases that may arise in face-to-face interactions, encouraging participants to share their authentic opinions more freely.

  • More dynamic, flexible conversations: With text focus groups, participants can engage at their convenience within a given timeframe. This flexibility accommodates busy schedules and enables participants to carefully consider their responses, resulting in more thoughtful contributions.

3. In-Depth Interviews

Although online and text focus groups are viable alternatives, some organizations prefer to conduct types of qualitative research in person. That is totally understandable!

Our market research firm believes in the power of insights collected through nonverbal cues. And this form of communication can be limited when the research is conducted through the phone or a webcam.

In this instance, another alternative to focus groups is in-depth interviews (IDIs).

IDIs are similar to focus groups in that researchers are able to have in-depth conversations with customers or target consumers. Each IDI is led by a trained interviewer who moderates a 20 to 30-minute conversation.

Although, instead of hosting a group discussion, IDIs involve speaking with one participant at a time - leading to the following benefits.

Eliminating group bias

The benefit of one-on-one interviews over focus groups is the elimination of group bias.

As discussed, it can be common in a focus group to have a few outspoken participants who take charge of the conversation.

This can create an intimidating setting for soft-spoken participants who do not want to go against the majority and share a different perspective or opinion.

Some may nod their head in agreement even if it is not how they feel.

On the contrary, in-depth interviews are a more personable setting where people can feel more comfortable sharing thoughts, emotions, and feelings on a given topic.

Best for sensitive market research topics

There is no fear of being ostracized because there is no one to argue their statements.

For this reason, IDIs can be especially beneficial when conducting market research on sensitive topics such as financial struggles, medical issues, or personal loss.

Still, struggling to decide between focus groups and IDIs?

Here are 7 questions to ask yourself when deciding whether your organization should conduct focus groups or in-depth interviews.

4. Phone Surveys

The next alternate market research option to focus groups is phone surveys. Phone surveys are a similar approach to in-depth interviews, except not conducted in person.

This methodology allows organizations to collect in-depth feedback that can be lacking in email or online surveys.

As with any market research methodology, phone surveys come with benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits of phone surveys as an alternative to focus groups

If you like the idea of conducting individual interviews with target consumers but also want to speak to participants across multiple geographies – then phone surveys are a great option.

Phone surveys can be conducted with participants anywhere. I do not only mean across state lines but also where a participant feels most comfortable.

For instance, focus groups are often conducted at a market research facility – whereas phone surveys allow scheduled participants to provide feedback from their homes, office, etc.

This personal setting can make the study seem more natural than a sit-down interview.

And the more comfortable a market research participant is, the more likely they are to provide quality and honest feedback.

Drawbacks to phone surveys

The downside to phone surveys is that it is still a more costly market research methodology.

Think about the time differences in hosting a 90-minute focus group with 10 participants vs. a 30 to 60-minute phone survey with each participant individually.

As a result, reporting and project management costs can increase as well.

With that being said, if you are trying to choose between in-person interviews and phone surveys – then phone surveys would be the more cost-effective option.

Your organization can likely save money on honorariums, travel costs, or facility rental fees.

Final Thoughts

Thankfully, there are plenty of focus group alternatives to choose from. 

Even so, you’ll want to map out your project goals to ensure you choose the right method. While each method we discussed has the potential to gather actionable feedback, choosing the “wrong” one for your needs will cost you. 

In order to avoid this, spend time researching each method we discussed. For example–you may think a focus group study would be best for you when IDIs are actually the best answer. 

Ask yourself these questions…

  • How much money am I willing to spend on focus groups? 
  • Is this the right method based on my objectives?
  • How many focus group sessions can I budget for?

For the best chance of success, contact a full-service market research company like Drive Research which can recommend the best methodology for you.

Contact Our Market Research Company

Drive Research is a full-service market research company. Our team executes both qualitative and quantitative research, acting as a focus group company, online survey agency, phone survey company, and more.

If your team is having a hard time choosing a methodology that is best for your goals and objectives, we can help. Drive Research can offer our expert recommendations, costs, and processes for each service.

Contact our team to get started.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

emily carroll about the author

Emily Rodgers

A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Manager. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Learn more about Emily, here.

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