A recent op-ed in The New York Times caught our attention for vindicating the relevancy of focus groups. Every so often the argument will be made that focus groups are dead, but just because something has been widely used since the 1940s doesn’t mean they’re not effective. We enjoy seeing pushback to the ‘focus groups are over’ argument, as illustrated in the WSJ article, “Why Companies Shouldn’t Give Up on Focus Groups.”
We’ re not going to rehash the points and counterpoints of focus groups in this post, but we will point out some of the more salient points made in the recent New York Times op-ed.
It came as no surprise to us when reading the op-ed that what was revealed in the focus groups countered what gets captured in polls and surveys. Whether the topic is politics, business, branding, or healthcare, qualitative studies—and focus groups, in particular—are the only tried-and-true ways to reveal nuance and context when wanting to better understand behavior and opinions.
This isn’t to say that polls and surveys (quantitative research) aren’t important, au contraire! Quantitative studies are great starting points, but we wouldn’t build a marketing campaign or strategic plan using only data captured by quantitative studies. Only qualitative research can paint a fuller picture, and it isn’t surprising that similar results were revealed in the focus groups mentioned in the op-ed. Had the political teams used only polling or survey data they would miss the finer points and more nuanced thinking revealed in the focus groups.
Besides vindicating focus groups, the op-ed also highlights the importance of a well-trained, experienced moderator. Understanding how to ask open-ended questions, gently guiding conversations, and not inadvertently biasing answers are all learned skills. One of our strengths at InterQ Research is our team of moderators. Our moderators have backgrounds in psychology and are continuously upgrading their credentials with ongoing training. All aspects of qualitative studies are important, from recruiting to moderating, and any one of these inputs can bias the results, which is why we’re so careful when designing studies and assigning team members to take the lead on various components of the study.
We have seen time and again how qualitative studies can be invaluable to companies, from start-ups to legacy brands. When looking to launch a new product, learn if you have product-market fit, improve UX design, or better understand political themes, we whole-heartedly recommend a qualitative study.