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What COVID Taught Me About Online Video Focus Groups

From Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Indianapolis, Indiana, April 12, 1959

When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters – one represents danger and one represents opportunity.

COVID -19 has created a world-wide crisis in so many areas of life. It’s a “change point” with risks.

In Marketing Research, the pandemic hampered our ability to connect with people eye to eye, and get their deep-felt thoughts and feelings . . . Or did it?

I earned my PhD in Psychology back in 1996. I’ve always been interested and dedicated to finding imaginative techniques to helping people tell their true stories, to help them identify what they value, want and need. My training in psychology helped a lot in qualitative research projects

In Myers Briggs Typology, I’m an ENFP. That means I’m a people person who loves to learn, who is excited by innovation. I value choice. I listen with compassion. I’m eager to try new approaches to help broaden and deepen learning.

When COVID-19 started and I was forced to move to online video groups and one-on-ones, I felt restricted and truthfully, a bit annoyed.

But what else was available? I needed to make it work, work well, get the answers my clients needed despite the isolation, boundaries and restrictions imposed by COVID. My flexibility and creativity were being curtailed, challenged or so it seemed at first.

Zoom to the rescue! Easy, intuitive and versatile.

Not only was online video a good substitute for in-person, it actually had added values that often surpassed it.

1. Online Video Research Is Often Easier to Organize

-When you remove physical limitations, it can become much easier to set up and conduct a focus group or IDI.

-There’s less paper. Instead of collecting collages, marked up concepts and notes, the work is all digital. That makes it super easy to collect and analyze while saving our trees.

2. Recruiting is more productive because there’s a much larger population to choose from

-This is particularly important when you’re targeting a low incidence group of people.

3. People are more likely to show up because there are less barriers to attending.

- It’s easy and more comfortable.

-There’s less investment of time and effort to take part.

-They don’t have to drive to get there. Just plug in and connect.

-They don’t have to wait in the presence of strangers and be socially attentive

-They can be more relaxed about their attire and appearance

4. Participants are often more likely to be open and reveal their true thoughts

-They are in their own familiar environment

-There are reminders of their daily lives right there that they can access with a glance, or if prompted by getting up and checking

-There’s less concern about judgment from others. While there’s always a chance of being judged for an opinion or thought, it’s less so in the more protected environment of the online venue and its safer sense of relative anonymity.

-Distance permits closeness. While it seems paradoxical, being separate seems to encourage group members to take risks of being more revealing than they would with someone in their lives. It’s like the intimate conversations that people have with each other on plane rides, where they’ll never see their fellow passenger again.

-Responses can be out loud or written into the chat. The chat supports a connection with the leader and openness to hearing their real reactions in the chat, which then encourages people to voice more honest feedback in the group.

5. Assignments get completed more often and more thoroughly

-I’ve observed that people are more likely to do their homework and assigned exercises and submit before joining the group.

-They’re also more likely to do the written exercises during the group.

-Having all that readable, collected data makes life so much easier for the moderator. How many times have you tried to decipher someone’s handwriting on a concept page and can’t. I appreciate having my documents and notes organized and accessible, before, during and after the research.

6. Private Virtual Rooms Allow Clients to Chat in Real Time

-The clients meet in a separate private room where they can observe the proceedings as well as think and create among themselves.

-Instead of sending a note, they can text the moderator and make suggestions or ask questions. Or they can rewrite material on the spot and submit for comments.

7. Reporting is Simplified

-Because everything is documented and there are instantly available audios, it’s much easier to turn around a topline and complete the report.

While there are many advantages for online video research, it’s important to lay the ground rules for respondents and client observers. I’ll share some tips on ensuring good results in the next article.

The world is opening up at the same time as we’ve learned new techniques and skills for success in many aspects of living. Maybe we don’t really need brick and mortar for focus groups anymore. That’s not to say that the social aspects of teamwork for the client are no longer important.

But perhaps we meet over lunch to debrief and create solutions, a day or two after the research. But wait . . . Is that best In person or Online?

To be continued

If you have questions or thoughts you’d like to share, please feel free to contact me. ... ... my cell – 603 505 5000.


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