Online surveys, even when they include open-ended questions, bring a different type of insight than do focus groups. Think about when you are filling out a survey and you get to the open-ended question. That big, blank, box staring back at you, waiting to be filled out can be intimidating as you wrack your brain for a good response. Survey respondents often want to zip through online surveys, so when they reach that empty box they type as little as possible.
Imagine reading this question on an online survey, “What made you decide to purchase a MacBook?” It seems like a good question that will give you plenty of insight to your customer base. But what happens when their response is “It was easy.”
“Easy” as a response raises a lot of questions that are hard, if not impossible, to answer. Did the respondent mean: It easy to buy? Easy to use? Easy to find in the store? You have no idea what they meant by easy. This is a situation where focus groups shine. A trained moderator will probe simple answers like “easy” with richer questioning to discover the real reason why they purchased your product or have a certain behavior or opinion.
As you can see, focus groups are an excellent market research technique that enables us to understand why customers think or behave in certain ways. In some cases this qualitative information is more helpful than quantitative information. In some situations we may recommend conducting both types of research (since one can be additive to the other) depending on our clients’ needs.
If you are not certain if focus groups are the best approach for your needs, please contact me. I would be happy to discuss your project in detail and share any pros or cons regarding the methodologies under consideration.