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Focus Group online or in person: which one should we choose?


The Focus Group is a research methodology used in Marketing to find out the opinions of a certain group of people about products and services, in order to obtain ideas to improve them or develop new ones. It is also useful to check if the market segmentation and choice of the target audience have been carried out correctly.

It is a term coined by the sociologist Robert K. Merton in his essay 'The Focused Interview' in 1956. Since then, it has become one of the most widely used qualitative methodologies for market research and although in its beginnings it was carried out in person, now it is possible to do it 100% online.

Both forms of application of this methodology (online or in person), are associated with a set of advantages and disadvantages that must be considered by those who lead the research. If you need to develop a Focus Group and you have doubts about which option to choose, here we present all the advantages and disadvantages that each procedure offers.

Face-to-face Focus Group

The face-to-face or traditional Focus Group consists of bringing together in the same place, a group of people who have been selected according to sociodemographic and consumer criteria. The session is led by a moderator, usually lasts two or three hours, and those involved share their opinions and needs about certain products or services.

The face-to-face Focus Group seeks to establish real conversations between potential clients and users of a brand or service. These dialogues are guided by the moderator, which allows to know what those involved expect from the brand in question and to obtain a deep insight into their concerns and way of thinking.

All the data obtained is subsequently analyzed, to improve products or services and optimize marketing campaigns.

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Advantages of a face-to-face Focus Group

  • Non-verbal language is taken into account. Within a face-to-face Focus Group, the person in charge of moderating has the possibility of obtaining data derived from non-verbal language and the reactions of the participating subjects, obtaining a broad vision of the client or consumer.

  • Personalization. Based on the interactions, expressions and gestures that are part of non-verbal language, the moderator can have personalized conversations and even determine how the behavior and attitudes of the rest of the group influence the individual responses of each participant.

  • Variety of tools. The face-to-face procedure allows the moderators to incorporate different tools and activities, with the aim of making the process more dynamic, discovering solutions that arise from the needs of the participants.

Disadvantages of face-to-face Focus Groups

  • Need for displacement. One of the major limitations of conducting face-to-face Focus Groups is that if the participants find it difficult to get to the place where the activity will take place, they change their mind about being part of the project.

  • Limited sampl. It must be done on a reduced sample, usually local. If data is needed at the national level, there is the problem of having to carry out Focus Groups in different cities, which considerably increases the final cost of the project.

  • Associated costs.. This methodology requires a considerable investment, which varies depending on the area covered by the project. The expenses of the procedure include room rental, transfers, audio and video recording, food and incentives for participants. All this, multiplied by each city in which data needs to be collected.

Online Focus Group

The online Focus Group has the same objective as the face-to-face, but the discussion takes place virtually, through an online platform or software, so the participant only has to have time, a compatible computer or mobile device , audio & video and a stable internet connection.

Participants receive the content and can discuss with each other on the issue raised, while the moderator collects impressions or data on their opinion. In addition, the moderator can carry out dynamic activities that encourage feedback and apply surveys, among other complementary tools.

Because of its convenience, efficiency, and low cost, many researchers prefer to conduct Focus Groups online.

Advantages of online focus groups

  • Global data.. Because there are no mobilization limitations that occur in face-to-face focus groups, the sample of participants can be expanded to the point of reaching global dimensions and located anywhere in the world with fewer complications.

  • 100% online. The entire procedure is based on the use of the internet, both for the moderator and for the participants, so everyone can connect from home without the company involved in the study having to take care of the adaptation of physical spaces and even so, they can have eye contact with the participants.

  • Cost reduction. No need to rent rooms or travel anywhere. Participants don’t have to mobilize or spend money on transportation, so the overall costs of the research project are reduced. In addition, there are online platforms specialized in Focus Groups with affordable prices.

Disadvantages of online focus groups

  • Technological limitations.. Virtual or online Focus Groups need specific tools such as speakers, webcam, and even specific computer settings, which can negatively influence the recruitment of participants.

  • Loss of information.. The moderator may miss out on some details related to non-verbal communication, reactions, and interactions between participants. In addition, specific skills are required to get the focus group to agree on how and when to express their opinions.

What alternative should we choose?

To determine which is the perfect option, it is necessary to establish the specific needs of each study, the variables involved, the budget, among other issues. So far, both versions of the Focus Group methodology complement each other without one succeeding in completely replacing the other.

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