No, Crowdsourcing Hasn’t Replaced Focus Groups
We read the most irritating claim about focus groups several weeks back, which inspired us to begin writing about why it was so wrong. But we realized somebody else could do it better than we could—a true expert on focus groups who built a thriving research business by conducting focus groups (among other qualitative methods) now in her thirtieth year.
From the desk of Kathy Doyle:
In a recent New York Times article about crowdsourcing, Chris Hicken of UserTesting made the statement that “crowdsourcing has replaced focus groups.” I agree that there is real merit to crowdsourcing, but I very much disagree with his statement that crowdsourcing has replaced focus groups.
Crowdsourcing is a great method to use at the innovation phase of the product lifecycle when a company has some direction about what they are looking for, and are open to an iterative process for idea generation, refinement, and voting. It is also an efficient way to expose early drafts of ideas for screening and optimization.
Crowdsourcing is NOT useful for gaining the depth of knowledge needed to identify unmet customer needs and the drivers of those needs—a key ingredient for determining direction and focus. For that, a deep dive to thoroughly understand your customer—their lifestyle, values, challenges, unmet needs and whitespace opportunities—is ideal. This can take place via focus groups – yes, focus groups– or via mobile ethnography, social media analysis, on-site observation or a combination of qualitative methods.
Focus groups are also used to great effect at other stages of the product lifecycle:
- Product Development. Once concepts have been identified and optimized (perhaps using crowdsourcing) the work of turning those concepts into successful products gets going. Focus groups are used for evaluating and refining product prototypes, and can also be used for determining preliminary positioning, naming and package design.
- Marketing Communications. A large percentage of qualitative research occurs in this phase. The marketplace is noisy, and it’s important to make sure that messages are relevant, breakthrough, and move consumers to purchase. Focus groups and in-depth interviews are commonly used to check communication; group think, a hallmark of crowdsourcing, is exactly the opposite of what is needed at this point.
- Performance Tuning. Once you are in the marketplace it is important to track performance. Is the product performing to expectations? Have market conditions or the competitive landscape changed? The way to answer those questions is to engage in dialogue—using either focus groups or another qualitative method—with aware non-triers, trier accepters and trier rejecters.
In sum, crowdsourcing is great for generating and vetting lots of ideas through an iterative process; focus groups (and their 21st century equivalents) are great for gaining a deep understanding of your target audience, identifying whitespace opportunities, and for evaluating marketing communications. There is a distinct purpose for each method, and no good reason for one to replace the other. I say, let’s strive for peaceful co-existence!