The Future Looks Bright for Online B2B Focus Groups

With worldwide expenditure on online research predicted to almost treble over the next three years, market research specialist B2B International believes the future is rosy for most online techniques, especially focus groups.

The technological revolution of the past 15 years has led to the rapid development of online data collection methodologies. Of these, the online survey is the most established but, more recently, online focus groups have emerged, making it possible to obtain qualitative information online.

Following similar principles to Internet message boards, the online focus group differs from online surveys in that it allows every participant to see the responses of all of the other respondents and encourages them to respond to these views as well as to the initial question posed by the researcher. In addition, the researcher inserts questions as the discussion develops, in order to probe areas of particular interest, or to gain further information on new topics that participants introduce to the discussion. In this way, online focus groups enable a real-time, dynamic discussion to develop between the researcher and the respondents, just as would be the case with a face-to-face focus group.

Business-to-business market research specialist B2B International has been firmly established in the online research industry since the company’s inception in 1998 and remains one of the forerunners in e-enabled research. B2B International has recently published a comprehensive White Paper – Using Online Focus Groups As A Business-To-Business Research Technique – which gives a balanced assessment of the rationale behind using the online focus group as a research methodology.

The White Paper outlines 13 key reasons to conduct online focus groups:

  • Volume of information
  • Depth and quality of information
  • Reflection time
  • Accuracy and granularity
  • Inclusiveness
  • Honesty of respondents
  • Better spread of respondents
  • Incorporating different geographies and time zones
  • Researching senior respondents
  • Participation rates
  • Introducing stimulae to the conversation
  • Everyone has an equal say
  • Client participation

In addition to highlighting the undisputed benefits, B2B International Director Matthew Harrison, author of the White Paper, shares some of the insights that B2B International has learned through the large number of online focus groups it has conducted over the last several years. According to Harrison: “Online focus groups can take place for a defined period of, say, 90 minutes, as with a face-to-face focus group but our experience shows us that online groups are more effective when spread over a period of 2 days, with respondents entering the discussion at different times to suit their convenience. This way, groups generate more considered opinion and a greater volume of information, adding real value to the research.”

However, internet focus groups are not suited to every research project and B2B International is quick to recognise the limitations. These include the fact that certain target audiences – particularly the less web-savvy – are less suited to online groups than others; respondent recruitment can be labour-intensive and expensive; and certain limitations exist with presenting physical stimulae for respondents to touch, feel or smell.

In spite of this, Harrison is optimistic about the future for online focus groups: “There are many reasons why we believe the prominence and effectiveness of online focus groups will increase, but key among them would be convenience and technology. Increasingly busy schedules coupled with the need to speak to respondents all across the world make online focus groups an ever more viable option. Secondly, there will continue to be huge advancements in the capabilities of and familiarity with technology, enabling greater numbers of respondents from all across the world to take part with increasing ease and improved effectiveness.”

To read the white paper in full, please click here.

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