Top five reasons to consider online focus groups

Focus groups have always been a staple method in the market researcher?s portfolio and there?s no doubt the rich and effective opinions that they can deliver to guide the manufacturing of a product through any part of its development lifecycle. You can?t argue their benefits as an excellent way to encourage people to share their experiences, attitudes, beliefs and motivations and, when the data is analysed effectively, it can determine and shape a product or device?s future within the industry. Emerging technology has become a market researcher?s playground for interaction between their subjects, or in the case of CMR; patients, caregivers, HCPs and commissioning groups. Innovation is the key to success for market researchers, particularly in a climate where circumstances such as budgets, time and location can present challenges, so the traditional face to face has now been joined by the increasingly-popular younger sibling; the online focus group. Here's CMR's top five reasons for going online.

They’re cost effective

Incentives and expenses are significantly reduced as the session can be completed at the participant?s desk. There are no significant viewing facility fees and certainly no food and accommodation requirements. Your moderator can be desk based also and the research can be carried out anywhere in the world.


We?ve covered how cost effective it is that participants can join in from the comfort of their own home or office but the convenience factor can?t be ignored. Your participants are likely to be at ease and happy to converse in a secure environment where they might alternatively feel inhibited if they were sitting amongst strangers in an unfamiliar setting. Clients can also be anywhere in the world yet have a direct link to the moderator to help guide or refine any discussions where necessary. Likewise, secure logins can be provided to other members of your team who would benefit from watching the session live (or of course on demand at their convenience).

Hard to reach groups

There?s great scope to be able to target harder to reach segments, for example, if you?re looking for a certain level of executives that would be challenged by taking time off to attend a focus group. This is also beneficial if you are looking to ascertain opinion from a variety of separate geographical locations within the one session. Participants are able to see each other as well as the moderator to develop rapport and richer discussions that you might not achieve through telephone conversations alone.


An online focus group will ideally last anywhere between 1 and 1.5 hours. So, you can make it a lunch hour for those who are busy or after school for young participants (with their carers/parent) and it wouldn?t encroach on too much of their day given that there?s no additional travel expectations.

This line of methodology is also very quick and easy to organise. All CMR would need is the time to develop a very clear and detailed discussion guide to ensure we lead the participants through each conversation point and any exercises that might be necessary as well as factoring in time to recruit. For an online focus group this should be straight forward allowing us to pick from a larger sample size with a wider geographical spread. That is, so long as you?re not asking us to carry out a focus group in an area where there?s no internet connection or requesting participants who can?t use a computer!


There?s great opportunity for sharing graphics such as product concepts, ads, marketing materials and messages and introducing potential quantitative aspects such as conducting polls. The moderator can use tools to highlight or mark issues, questions or images using the online platform. It can also give participants the opportunity to do any searches before coming back with their answers.

Taking these top benefits in to consideration, there are of course elements that might mean an online focus group is not necessarily the most appropriate method for a research project.

Usability and Ethnography research

It?s not a platform to use should the participant need to handle the device as depending on their camera placement it?s difficult to adequately view and record their non-verbal assessment of the product. Ethnography creates a wealth of information that must be carefully managed and analysed in order to create the most useful and actionable insights and recording this via an online connection might compromise this element of assessment.

It’s not for everyone

Where some people find themselves at ease being in the privacy of their own home there may be some who find it harder to speak in this forum and therefore may not deliver their true opinions.

It?s also not as easy to use or pick up on non-verbal cues such as hand gestures or facial expressions which are a rich source of material to the moderator and can also impact on how others may respond.

Technology glitches

Even with the best of intentions, these do happen. The participant is required to have a webcam (which can be supplied by CMR) and the necessary browser specifications to enable the online platform to work. This then can impact on the sample to pick from. Even if the technology is there, there is always the risk of it crashing.

At CMR we?ve had great success utilising online focus groups, however that?s not to say that we aren?t great fans of the traditional face to face methodology either. Ultimately, our responsibility as market researchers is to ensure we assign the methodology where it fits best to deliver rich and meaningful insight to the questions our clients are posing.

Get in contact via our contact us page or email if you’d like our thoughts on your next project.