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Focus Groups in the Digital Era

Focus groups, which are a form of qualitative research used for marketing purposes, first gained popularity in the 1950s and were a result of sociologist Robert Merton’s influence and the release of his book “The Interview” in 1956.

The very first focus group was assembled by the Office of Social Research and a group of sociologists including Robert Merton in an effort to study the average American’s reaction to the military’s propaganda films that were prevalent during that time. The sociologists found that they could prod people to reveal why a certain scene made them think or feel a certain way. This information was valuable to the government who was trying to promote World War II.

Consumer culture then picked up on the focus group and has since used qualitative research on virtually every innovation over the years. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of all consumer research dollars are spent conducting qualitative research and utilize some sort of focus group.

Why are focus groups crucial to marketing success?
The world of marketing relies heavily on information gleaned from focus groups. Focus groups are usually assembled in the early stages of a concept or product’s development. The information taken from these focus groups will help companies understand the direction they should take the product or concept. For example, they can learn valuable information regarding a product’s packaging, name or how the general public will react to the product itself.

Who makes up a focus group?
In most cases, a focus group contains anywhere from eight to 10 individuals. These people are selected by screenings that find individuals who have certain characteristics that relate to the topic of study. A moderator will oversee the group and encourage individuals to share their point of view. Researchers will notice trends and patterns in perceptions when the focus group process is repeated several times. These trends and patterns help companies understand the best way to sell their product or concept to the general public.

Other types of focus groups:
There are other types of focus groups that are sometimes implemented, and they are as follows:

  • Two-way focus groups: This type of focus group observes another focus group and then discusses the other group’s conclusion and interactions.
  • Dual moderator focus group: This type of focus group has two moderators. One is in charge of ensuring all topics are covered while the other keeps the session moving smoothly.
  • Dueling moderator focus group: This type of focus group features two moderators who deliberately take opposing viewpoints to prompt discussion.
  • Teleconference focus groups: This type of focus group implements the telephone network for discussion.
  • Online focus groups: This type of focus group is the newest and is quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional focus groups in this digital era. It uses the internet to gather information and prompt discussion. Today, many of these are conducted as paid online surveys.

The history of focus groups is interesting, and its evolution over the years in many ways has mirrored the growth of society. The online and telephone focus groups are examples of this growth.


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