Ready for the focus groups of the future?

How technology is transforming the future of market research focus groups


We all know focus groups are one of the most effective ways of gathering valuable qualitative data. Whether you’re exploring consumer’s attitudes, opinions and perceptions through small, informal group meetings or by using online focus groups, it’s a market researcher’s bread and butter. But with today’s rapidly evolving technology will there come a time when we can offer the same attention to detail and incisive consumer insight without having to look respondents in the eye? And could face-to-face interviewing become a thing of the past?

There’s no substitute for seeing a person’s reaction to a product or service up close and personal – a simple smile or scowl can provide a huge amount of information to the trained eye. But what if new innovations in technology could seamlessly replicate or even improve how we do things? Video conferencing, Neuroscience, virtual reality, social media – they are all experiencing advances that could prove crucial in improving how we go about collecting data.

Video conferencing has been around for a long time – many of us have experienced the frustration of its vision and sound delays first hand – but, as new technology gets cheaper and more efficient, it could become an increasingly handy device. Imagine huge screens where life-sized, crystal clear images of respondents are beamed into your conference room. No jerky picture, no broken sound – just as if they’re there with you in person. With increasingly powerful processors and ever-faster network speeds, it could be on its way.

Another area where technology is offering market researchers an added advantage is neuroscience. Able to track emotional responses in real time and note reactions to stimuli in seconds using state-of-the-art facial coding, eye tracking, and brainwave measurement, it’s a growing area ripe for innovations in technology. Already adept at harvesting responses at a subconscious level, it’s an area that’s well worth keeping an eye on. It may be that neuroscience evolves into something new, something that’s even more helpful to market researchers. We’ll have to wait and see.

We already talk to respondents using social media. As a part of the everyday lives of the vast majority of the survey-age population, it’s an extremely useful tool. In fact, this tech-savvy generation could even help us collect data in the future thanks to their familiarity with new technology, and their ability and desire to keep up-to-date with what’s available. Perhaps one day we’ll see a mix of everything – video conferencing, neuroscience, platforms like Google Hangouts and Facetime, (or whatever comes to replace them) that will help us deepen our research levels.

When virtual reality first reared its head back in the early 90s we were all promised an immersive experience that would change our lives forever. It didn’t work out that way – the visuals were clunky, the equipment was intrusive and complicated and it was hugely expensive. The idea was sound, but the technology wasn’t able to match the ambition of its creators. Now though things have changed. Technology hasn’t just caught up, it’s looking likely to rocket us forward into the realms of science fiction. Feeding the imagination of some of the world’s greatest pioneering technological minds, virtual reality is back with a bang. But what does this mean for focus groups? Well, it could mean many things. It has the potential to bring massive benefits to how we carry out qualitative research – and could conceivably even replace face-to face interviewing one day.

Platforms like the online virtual world Second Life already offer people the experience of replicating real-life business relationships or developing products for sale virtually. But how far could this go? Will we see a time when we can pop on a headset and go shopping without leaving the house? Will consumers be able to see, touch and try out products virtually, and if so what does this mean for market researchers? It could be that we reach a point where we can carry out focus groups with respondents able to touch and use products in virtual form. Add the prospect of integrating other clever technology, such as measuring brain activity, and it would be an invaluable boost to how we collect data.

To see how far Virtual reality might take us, take a look at the latest promotional film from Microsoft here. It really shows how virtual reality is ready to help us explore seemingly endless possibilities.


Another indicator of how important this technology is becoming is Facebook’s recent staggering $2 billion deal to buy 3D virtual reality headset company Oculus Rift. Founder Palmer Luckey believes the headset will change the course of history and revolutionise the world. Many see it as the first true breakthrough in bringing virtual reality to a mainstream and commercial audience. Luckey’s expertise has seen virtual reality take a huge leap forward. He says it’s capable of reinventing how we communicate. ‘People all over the world could have meetings together by simply putting on the headset, and entering the same virtual room and sitting together around a table – as avatars.’ And it’s not just Oculus Rift that’s paving the way – Google Glass is hot on their heels with the OHMD (optical head-mounted display).

Integrate other advances, such as the ability to measure brainwaves, track eye movement and capture responses at a subconscious level, and it could be that virtual reality will provide insight we can barely imagine now. Look at it this way, would you have believed what we could use our mobile phones for today, even 10 years ago? Imagine where virtual reality could take us over the next 10 years.

The question is, how will our research benefit and what does all this technological progress mean for focus groups? Well, perhaps we’re on the verge of something truly remarkable. Perhaps there’s no limit to what it can do. Perhaps face-to-face interviewing will become a thing of the past. Only time will tell. The only certain thing is, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on where it’s all heading.

If you need help organising your focus groups, speak to our team now, or send us your latest project details and we'll be happy to help you get the best out of your research. 

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