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Posts Tagged ‘Focus Groups’

This blog post is a summary of a recent project completed by Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS). 

Background: An advertising firm partnered with Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) to conduct image and awareness focus groups for their client, an international quick service restaurant. The end-client wanted to better understand consumer perceptions of the restaurant’s menu, products, pricing, facilities, employees, and the brand overall. The market research objective was to gather the insights needed for the restaurant to improve the customer experience.

Approach: The study consisted of three 100 minute focus groups. Focus group participants were selected from the RMS ViewPoint Research Panel based upon the frequency that they visit the restaurant. The first focus group included millennials who were either current or former restaurant users. The second group was made up of current restaurant users, and the last group included only former users of the quick service restaurant. RMS staff moderated the focus groups, which were held at the RMS QualiSight Focus Group facility in Baldwinsville, NY. RMS recruited 12 participants for each group, to ultimately seat 10 to participate in the discussion. RMS completed the project in approximately six weeks.

Results: Here are some highlights of the study’s findings:

  • Participants reviewed several commercials, identified their favorite, and provided feedback on how the commercials could be improved. This allowed the end-client to determine the appropriate message for each customer type.
  • Research revealed what the restaurant is known for among consumers, allowing the end-client to identify brand strengths and areas of opportunity.
  • Participants identified top competitors and reasons for choosing them instead of the end-client restaurant. Consumers noted that they are willing to pay slightly more for what they perceive to be fresher, higher quality ingredients.
  • It was clear that the consumer definition of “fresh” has evolved in recent years. Although the client was a previous leader in the healthy eating movement, focus group participants felt that the quick service restaurant has not evolved with the perception of fresh and has thus faced steep competition by newer restaurant entrants to the healthy eating movement.
  • Participant feedback revealed the need for the restaurant to update the quality and variety of ingredients, and refresh the restaurant facilities. One of the recommendations offered by RMS in the project report included the suggestion that the restaurant re-tool the commercials to demonstrate the improvements made in an effort to better meet consumer needs.

RMS is a full-service market research firm located in Baldwinsville, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our research capabilities, please contact Sandy Baker, our Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422. Visit our website at www.RMSresults.com.

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empty classroom

This blog post provides an updated look on a previous blog post stating how market research can help address higher education enrollment challenges. Institutions are still trudging through slower growth in enrollment than they have experienced in the past. As projected in the previous blog post, the National Center for Education Statistics has again reported the number of high school graduates to be on the decline, with 24 states and the District of Columbia expected to produce five percent or more fewer graduates in 2022-23 than in 2009-10. The Northeast can again expect the sharpest decline, where high schools are projected to produce 10% fewer graduates by 2023.

Fewer high school graduates directly influences the dip in projected enrollment in postsecondary institutions. While overall enrollment is projected to increase by 2022, the percent increase is projected to drop dramatically, from a 45% increase between 1997-2011 to a 14% increase between 2011-2022. Through conversations with clients and colleagues, it’s clear that institutions are aware that actionable insights will be needed to tread the waters. While the approach will vary across institutions, we’ve included some recommendations below for consideration in tackling enrollment challenges.

  1. Tap into Uncharted Territory

Through the projects that we’ve completed for higher education clients, RMS has seen online learning continue to gain in popularity among students and institutions alike. As mentioned in a recent blog post, online learning platforms are expected to become more customizable, providing immediate feedback on performance and tutoring, and ultimately leading to faster degree completion and enhanced academic relationships with professors. This has led to a surge in institutions demonstrating an interest in finding ways to upgrade or offer online educational options.  A survey, in-depth interviews, or focus groups with current and prospective students are valuable tools to find out if online academic offerings is an uncharted territory worth pursuing.

  1. Understand and Recruit from the Changing Demographic Pool

The traditional college student is a shrinking demographic. Institutions saw a 49% increase in enrolled students between 18 and 24 years old from 1997-2011, but that increase is projected to decline to 9% from 2011-2022. In fact, post-secondary students 35 years or older are expected to command the largest enrollment increase during the same time frame (23%), while a 20% increase in enrollment of those between 25 and 34 years old is anticipated. This continual shift in demographics among college students is a trend that will force institutions to re-tool their marketing and recruiting efforts. Adult learners will require different student services and financial needs than their younger counterparts. Commitments outside of the classroom will also vary. There are many paths that institutions may take to determine the appropriate strategy for reaching these populations. It will be important to gauge interest in the college’s current suite of academic offerings, figure out if there are programs you should be offering to capitalize on untapped adult student populations, and match that with the labor market demand for those occupations to drive marketing efforts.  Program feasibility studies  will become vital components of an institution’s effort to answer these questions. Student services and financial needs can be measured through focus groups, surveys, or through a competitive analysis of the institution’s top competitors.

  1. Revitalize Retention Efforts

Retention is critical to higher education institutions, and for good reason. Retention is influenced by initial college impressions such as admissions procedures and policies, but includes many post-admission factors such as academic advising, financial aid, student activities, and residence services. There are several ways to determine which factors are weighing most heavily on retention.  An institution can pinpoint their areas of opportunity by measuring current student satisfaction and comparing it to data gathered from individuals who inquired about the institution but did not apply or enroll. This will reveal where current students feel the college may be falling short and allow the institution to make improvements in an effort to reduce the likelihood of the student body seeking other academic options. It will allow the college to identify gaps in current processes or services that is leading to missed opportunity at the initial admissions phase. Focus groups, satisfaction surveys, and student services assessments are great options to answer these questions.

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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Business Presentation

This is Part 2 of our series on successful focus group implementation. Review Part 1 tips here.

  1. Moderating Approach

The skill of the moderator can make or break the focus group. It’s best to hire a professional who has experience managing the dynamics of a focus group. It’s not uncommon for discussions to go off topic, and a good moderator will know how to get the group back on track. They’ll also be able to probe on topics that may not be explicitly stated in the moderator’s guide, but are brought up during discussion. Here are a few other tips that we routinely implement in our focus groups to maximize participation.

  • When possible, have a co-moderator present to help set up, sign participants in, and take notes. If the project requires confidentiality, ask participants to sign a confidentiality agreement, or verbally reinstate the need for confidentiality.
  • Ask participants to use the restroom and turn off electronic devices before getting started to minimize outside distractions.
  • Provide name cards for participants and moderators. We like to start with an ice breaker such as “What is your favorite TV show” or something equally light-hearted and non-controversial.
  • Inform participants (again) if you will be recording the focus group, and the level of confidentiality they can expect from their participation. Most of our recordings are used to generate transcripts, and we do not include full names in the reports.
  • Once the discussion is complete, have the co-moderator assist with distributing honorariums and obtaining signatures for the receipt of those rewards. Also be sure to label any notes obtained from the moderator and participants immediately following the discussion to avoid confusion during data analysis.
  1. Getting the Most Out of Your Data

Once the focus group discussions are complete, the fun part begins – data analysis! Not all focus groups will require full transcription of the discussions, so it is important to determine if it will be necessary to include an allotted amount in the project budget. A typical transcription will take approximately twice the amount of time it took to conduct the focus group. So a 90-minute discussion would take about three hours to transcribe. For groups where transcription is not necessary, moderator and participant notes will be utilized to complete the analysis. Below is a high-level summary of the data analysis procedures for a focus group.

  • First, the researcher will review all notes or transcripts to determine codes for major themes that exist across the focus groups.
  • Sub-categories of themes that emerge will then be determined.
  • Direct quotes will be pulled to support the themes and key findings.
  • If other modes of research were conducted, the findings from the focus groups can be triangulated to provide a basis for an executive summary in the final report. For example, if a theme from the focus groups aligns with a finding from an online survey, it would be important for the researcher to note this in the executive summary.

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our market research services please contact the Director of Business Development, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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Focus groups are an insightful research option for businesses embarking on the exploratory phase of a project. Implementation of a focus group requires a moderator with the skill necessary to obtain rich data that will allow the client to take the next step in their project. Below are tips for conducting a successful focus group.

  1. Recruitment Plan

Establish your target audience prior to focus group recruitment. It may seem like an obvious strategy, but it will be important to spend the time nailing down your recruitment approach with all parties involved. For example, when planning a focus group project, consider the following:

  • Screen potential participants to ensure they meet the criteria for focus group participation.
  • Plan to recruit more participants than you’ll need; there will inevitably be one or more “no shows.”
  • Offer participants an incentive that has value to them, and make it worth their time. Cash is often the best option. We suggest a $50 minimum for 1.5 hours of the participant’s time.
  • Clearly identify the purpose of the focus group when contacting potential participants. People often assume focus groups are a scam. It’s important to let them know you are not trying to sell them something.
  • Inform them of the level of confidentiality they can expect from their participation. Will you be recording the session? Will their name be included in the report to the client?
  • Try to balance the focus group by recruiting participants that share something in common regarding the topic being investigated, but ensure they aren’t TOO much alike that it will bias your data.
  • Plan to spend time recruiting. It often takes multiple attempts to recruit someone to a focus group. If possible, implement multiple forms of recruitment (online/emails, flyers, mailers, and similar strategies).
  1. Selecting Participants

Once participant recruitment begins, it’s important to monitor the quotas for each population being recruited. For example, if you are hoping to determine gaps in available health services over a multiple county area, it will be important to monitor how many participants are recruited for each county. The number of participants should also be considered. We recommend attempting to seat a minimum of six recruited participants in order to allow for rich discussion.

You should also consider whether you will need multiple groups with the same demographics, or fewer groups with participants split based upon an important characteristic. Separate groups should be held if participants are expected to interpret the content differently, or you believe they would not feel comfortable providing truthful responses in the presence of another demographic. Examples of this include holding separate focus groups for bosses and employees, parents and children, and high socioeconomic status vs. low socioeconomic status.

  1. Implementation Strategy
  • Plan to conduct the focus group(s) at a time that is convenient for the participants. This may mean the focus group will take place before or after business hours, during lunch, or on the weekend. Many state and federal organization recognize more holidays than the average US business, so it is best to avoid scheduling the group on a holiday.
  • Provide participants with light snacks and beverages. If the discussion will be held during lunch or dinner, it is best to provide a light meal. As part of your recruitment method, specify the types of refreshments that participants can expect.
  • The location of the focus group can be vital. If your target audience is primarily made up of low socio-economic participants, plan a location along public transportation routes. If you’re trying to reach an affluent business population, a central location in a downtown setting may be a priority. Either way, choose a public setting where parking is convenient, and participants will feel safe.
  • Once a potential location is determined, it will be important to ensure that a large table and chairs will be available. We find it’s best to arrange the room in an informal manner. For example, several tables may be placed next to each other perpendicularly so that no one has their back to another participant.
  • Plan to spend a good amount of time developing the moderator’s guide, which details the implementation strategy that the moderator will use to conduct the focus group. Try to keep questions short and to the point so participants do not lose interest or have trouble comprehending. Questions should be open-ended to allow for rich discussion.

Stay tuned for additional tips on conducting a successful focus group. Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our market research services please contact the Director of Business Development, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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This blog post was featured in the recent edition of “Our Town” in the Baldwinsville Messenger in November of this year. It was written by our Communications Coordinator, Erin Wisneski.

At a time when businesses were moving out-of-state, Mark Dengler chose to stay in Central New York and start his own company. In early 2000, Dengler’s employer moved to New Mexico, along with his position. Rather than following the company, Dengler took hold of his fate and formed a consulting firm. He conducted a few feasibility studies and found there was a need for affordable market research here in CNY. In 2002, he formed Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS), a market research firm in Upstate NY, and began building a client base.

His forecast was right on the mark and, despite an economy facing years of recession, RMS flourished. The firm showed clients in a variety of industries (including healthcare, education, financial and manufacturing) the value of using market research for effective decision-making. The firm also developed long-term relationships with many clients, most of whom are still with the firm today. “Market research isn’t a one and done thing,” Dengler said. “It’s something companies constantly use to grow and optimize their resources.”

market research firm in upstate ny

We want your opinions!

In addition to helping clients, RMS offers consumers an opportunity to make some quick cash while sharing their thoughts and opinions on products and services offered in today’s market place. “Focus groups, mystery shopping and surveys are seen as an important tool for acquiring feedback, particularly for companies researching new products or services before they are made available to the public,” said Lauren Krell, Manager of QualiSight, RMS’ onsite, full-service focus group facility and call center.

Launched in 2009, QualiSight  has conducted numerous focus groups and surveys for clients ranging from healthcare to banking decisions to beer tastings in which RMS panel members, who consist of individuals from across the country, provide genuine feedback. Dave Smith, a member of RMS’ panel, recently commented on his participation in a focus group noting that it is exciting to be part of the process, which ultimately affects numerous individuals. “You feel like you are making some small impact on the way things develop,” he said, adding that for him, it was a worthy way to spend his time, not to mention he was compensated for his time.

RMS invites individuals to log onto its website, www.RMSresults.com (click on “Join Our Panel”), to register for the company’s research panel pool. “Every project requires unique and specific criteria. Having a large pool of people who have already expressed interest in participating in a focus group or survey provides the potential feedback our clients are seeking in a timely and inexpensive manner,” Krell said.

RMS Healthcare

The firm also continues to make a name for itself in the healthcare industry. One of the primary functions of the RMS Healthcare division is assisting practices across the country to navigate the Physician Practice Connections Patient Centered Medical Home (PPC®-PCMH) Recognition process, which ultimately demonstrates a practice’s commitment to quality care. “RMS Healthcare guides practices through the detailed process of quantifying work flows and procedures to affirm quality processes and practices,” said Susan Maxsween, Manager of Healthcare Transformation at RMS. Since launching the PPC-PCMH assistance program in 2010, RMS Healthcare has assisted more than 50 practices in achieving PPC-PCMH recognition across the country.

For more information about the marketing solutions offered by RMS, visit the company’s website. RMS is located at 15 East Genesee St., Suite 210 in Village Commons, Baldwinsville. If you would like a tour of our expanded facility, contact our Director of Business Development Sandy Baker at (315) 635-9802 or email SandyB@RMSresults.com.

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Focus groups occur so often in the worlds of business and politics that the news media rarely takes note of them. But when a sports league conducted one recently, it became a story that drew a lot of attention. Earlier this week, the NHL made a lot of headlines when it was leaked to the media that they had hired high-profile Republican strategist Frank Luntz of Luntz Global to conduct a focus group about fan reaction to their ongoing lockout with the players.

The focus group story attracted a great deal of attention from sports bloggers and mainstream media commentators. Much of the commentary was negative, even mocking. Some saw the research as a sign of desperation and recognition by the NHL owners that they are losing the PR battle against the players’ union regarding the lockout. Another common criticism was that the NHL was spending money on focus groups while at the same time some team owners were complaining of financial struggles. Some raised eyebrows over the choice of Luntz who is known primarily as a political researcher, and one with an established party allegiance.

As a general rule, we discourage focus group participants from showing up at the session in face paint, but we might make an exception if the NHL ever hires us.

Our take here in The Bunker is that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a major sports league is conducting research to gauge fan opinion on a matter crucial to that league, any more than it should surprise them that organizations across the entire industry spectrum that rely upon the support of customers, constituents, end users, fans, voters, etc. do the same kind of research every day. In fact, we would argue, as others already have, that doing the focus group is evidence that the NHL understands that they must consider the fans to be important stakeholders in the future of their league. That’s a good thing.

Furthermore, while we don’t know what Luntz Global was paid to do the group, the general idea that the cost of one focus group project should even be a consideration in this story doesn’t hold water. Last season, the NHL grossed about $3.3 billion in revenues and the teams routinely sign individual players to multi-million dollar contracts. The cost of focus group research is a drop in the bucket in that context – not to mention the fact that if the findings from the groups are used to help avoid making moves that would alienate fans more than they already have been during this contentious labor dispute then the research will pay for itself many times over.

Finally, we are of the opinion that NHL should do more focus groups rather than fewer. For example, we’re quite sure that if fans had been asked their opinions on team uniform preferences beforehand, this never would have happened.

If you have any questions about focus groups or other ways to use research to engage your customers, please contact Sandy Baker at SandyB@Rmsresults.com or by calling (315) 635-9802.

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If you are wondering how to write a focus group moderator’s guide, you found the right blog post. With that being said, the thing is…there is no right or wrong way to write a guide for focus groups. Each market research consultant or market research firm probably has their own unique way of writing a guide and walking participants through a focus group. The purpose of this blog post today is to walk you through some of the techniques/standards Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) employs in our focus groups. Here are our tips for writing a focus group moderator’s guide:

  • Start the guide with an introduction section. This is the table-setter for the focus group participants. Many of them, if not all of them, will be attending a focus group for the first time so they will be anxious to see how things progress from the first minute. By laying out the groundwork and rules up front, it gives them a chance to listen, get settled and put their anxiety aside. In the introduction, you should cover such things as the reason for the market research, how you recruited them, honoraria/payment, A/V recording, length of time, confidentiality, anonymity and other logistical items. This can take anywhere from five to 10 minutes and will get everyone off on the right foot.
  • Next, start with a simple or fun activity. This would serve as the ice-breaker following the introduction. Many focus group moderators’ guides are accompanied with a participation packet. What is a participation packet in a focus group? Click here. For instance, if you are doing a focus group to test some new television commercials for your client, you may want to set the tone by talking a little bit about television usage in general including favorite movies or TV shows. You can also do this through a written exercise.
  • After the ice-breaker, ease the participants into the topic of research. This is not where you would tackle the main objective of the market research but rather address your secondary objectives. For instance, if a hospital is coming to you as a market research consultant to help them get feedback from consumers on new print advertisements for cancer care at the hospital, you wouldn’t want to jump right into that here. It’s too early, and participants are not fully warmed-up. Using that example, you would use this section of the market research guide to talk about hospital usage, awareness of hospitals, decision-making criteria used for choosing hospitals, etc. Therefore you are still generating good discussion about the topic, but at a higher level before you reveal the objective of the focus groups.
  • Following the general research section, get into the “meat” of the research. This would be the largest and most detailed section(s) of the focus group moderator’s guide. Here is where you would list questions and introduce concepts that directly relate to the main objective of the market research. If you are moderating a focus group to get feedback about TV commercials, you would show the commercials now. If you are moderating a focus group about hospital print advertisements, you would show the participants those ads now or conduct an exercise where they build an ad that is appealing to them. This is the section that needs the most attention for your client.
  • Finally, close with a general wrap-up using key takeaways and a conclusion. Here, you can use the last 15 minutes or so to re-address key findings that participants brought up earlier or use it to obtain summary data. In many of our focus groups, we’ll use the last section to tackle customer satisfaction or customer loyalty. We’ll ask how satisfied participants are with our client or its competitors and find out why. It’s a nice way to gain some valuable feedback and wind things down. Use the last few minutes to ensure the participants do not want to offer anything else and then thank them for attending.

how to write a focus group moderator's guide

Oftentimes focus groups will veer off topic a bit and explore ideas that you were not prepared for, which is okay too. The direction/findings may evolve as the group moves along so you may need to be prepared to veer from the script a bit.

Are you interesting in using focus groups to help answer questions facing your business? Qualitative research and focus groups are a great way to obtain exploratory data from customers and non-customers. Contact our Business Development Director Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 315-635-9802.

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There are many crucial aspects to a good qualitative research project, including the moderator’s guide, design of the participation packet, and even the report that is delivered afterwards.  But all of those pieces of the qualitative puzzle are insignificant unless you can actually get a fair number of participants to show up for the focus groups and/or interviews.  You can write the best moderator’s guide in the world for a focus group, but if only one or two people show up for a sitting of 10-12, the guide won’t matter.  With that in mind, here are a five steps geared to encourage participants to show up for your qualitative research project and improve your participation rate.

  1. Bigger incentives – Vance wrote a blog post on this a while back and made some good points about the relationship between incentives and qualitative research.  Ultimately, the amount you offer varies depending on the audience invited, the time frame to do the research, and the amount of time required for the involvement – among other things.  It’s one of the most difficult things to determine in market research, but you don’t want to lose out on a large number of participants because they won’t drive to the facility for $75 but would have for $100.  The incentive mentioned during the screening call has to pass the “ear test” and pique interest.
  2. Raffle off another incentive – this is in reference to raffling off an additional incentive for those participants who either show or show early.  Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) often does this to encourage participants to show 15 minutes early.  This allows the team to better understand the turnout ahead of time and deem if last-minute phone calls are necessary.  Nothing eliminates the stress on a research team like having all 12 participants show up early and providing the moderator and/client viewers with options on who to keep and who to let go.  Adding another throw-in sweepstakes encourages participants to commit.
  3. Confirmation letters with directions – as part of the recruitment process at RMS, confirmation letters are prepared, printed and mailed to all participants prior to the date(s) of the focus group(s).  We also send a one-page overview of what a focus group or in-depth interview (IDI) entails for those coming to our site to do the research in-person.  In addition to the letter confirming the date and time, we also mail a sheet of directions to our QualiSight focus group facility in Syracuse, NY with a nice aerial picture of where our offices are located.
  4. Confirmation emails and texts – these are critical parts to the recruitment process for qualitative market research, especially for those participants who are recruited a week or more ahead of time.  By using multiple avenues as reminders – mail, email, reminder phone calls, and texts – you’ll ensure you’re covering a variety of touch-points.  There is a thin line between just the right amount of reminders and overkill, but as a market researcher, I’d rather hear “your reminders annoyed me to death” than “no one reminded me.”  If it’s a case of the latter, you probably won’t hear that feedback because that participant wouldn’t show to tell you.
  5. Provide contact number for questions – lastly, provide a contact number of someone who can help answer questions about the project or anything else that comes up on the participants end.  Participants are often anxious about participating in qualitative research and nothing can put that anxiety to ease better than a person who is confident and can answer questions to subside any concerns.  If you have an office of five people or 500, an already nervous participant doesn’t want to hear “Let me check on that and get back to you.”
focus group facility syracuse ny 5
View of a typical night before RMS focus groups.

Use these five steps to improve participation in your qualitative market research project.  Sometimes, no matter how much preparation you do on your end and no matter how many reminders you send out to participants, you’ll occasionally still get a bad showing for your qualitative research.  No-shows happen.  So it’s always important to think about plan Bs and plan Cs in case that does happen – such as supplementing lower numbers of focus group participants with additional IDIs, holding another group, and/or complementing the research with a follow-up survey.

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm in Syracuse, NY, with its own on site QualiSight qualitative research facility.

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This blog post was written by our guest blogger Mark Dengler, Owner & President of RMS.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could read our customers’ minds? Well, the next best thing is to conduct qualitative market research. Focus groups and In-depth Interviews (IDIs) open a window to help us gain detailed and in-depth information about what a target population may think or feel about a specific product, service or idea. These widely used qualitative research tools, while not quantifiable, can be very enlightening as they provide an understanding of the customers’ attitudes about a recent service experience or product use. Who better to ask than your own customers?

Both methodologies are used to gain free-flowing ideas and opinions that would not be possible to express in a written survey. A combination of qualitative (focus group, IDIs) and quantitative research tools (surveys) complement each other very well, and make up for what each approach individually may lack.

The choice of which qualitative or quantitative methodology to use will depend on the objectives you hope to achieve from the primary research and your target audience.

market research in syracuse ny 001

RMS QualiSight Focus Group Facility

What is a focus group/IDI?

A focus group is a small discussion group facilitated by a trained moderator. Typically, eight to 10 individuals are invited to share and explore attitudes on a specific topic of interest for approximately two hours. The moderator encourages participants to freely discuss their feelings and opinions, and is skilled at asking probing questions to gain insight and depth of attitudes.

An IDI is typically a face-to-face conversation between a researcher and a single respondent with the purpose of exploring issues or topics in detail. Sometimes IDIs are completed over the telephone or using electronic software such as Skype. The interviewer encourages the participant to freely discuss his/her feelings and opinions and is skilled at probing further to gain insight.

Most people really enjoy being part of these research modalities. They are not asked to purchase or endorse anything; in fact, participants are typically thanked with a stipend or honorarium that varies depending on the topic of interest.

When should I use focus groups and IDIs?

Focus groups and IDIs can be used to accomplish a number of different objectives. They are generally used when you’re looking for more than yes/no answers and you need more information than a survey can give.  The key feature is that these research methods allow for thorough probing. For example, if someone says the lobby was “busy,” this term could be positive (provided real energy, good vibe) or negative (felt congested and overwhelming). Focus groups and IDIs allow for a better understanding of a respondent’s perceptions.

Some specific applications of both methodologies include:

  • Identifying attitudes, perceptions and/or satisfaction about your product or service;
  • Identifying and defining the needs of a specific user group;
  • Learning your competitive position perception in the marketplace;
  • Generating new ideas for products or services;
  • Role-playing or the dynamics of a larger group such as a school board meeting, town hall meeting or other larger community event;
  • Obtaining broad-based community perceptions;
  • Identifying opportunities and barriers related to your product or service; and
  • Testing advertising copy, themes and packaging.

Most importantly, these research methodologies are relatively quick and inexpensive, offering in-depth insight into consumer thoughts.

Mark Dengler is the president of Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) a market research firm in Syracuse, NY. For more information about RMS, email our business development team (located in the right toolbar of this blog) or call us at (315) 635-9802.

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Many qualitative research projects, such as focus groups or in-depth interviews, will offer a monetary incentive to entice people into participating. In fact, unless the research is being conducted for a person’s employer or for a charitable organization, incentives are the only way to get them to give up their time. At the beginning of such a project, the amount of an incentive needs to be established. Some organizations don’t hesitate to offer generous incentives, while others try to save money by offering a low amount. Based on our extensive experience with such projects, we here in The Bunker think that offering low incentives is usually a classic example of being pennywise and pound foolish. Here are five reasons we believe it’s usually best, from a research standpoint, to open up the purse strings and offer more rather than less:

1. Higher Levels of Engagement – Participants who have been offered what they consider to be a generous incentive are more eager and favorably disposed toward participating in a study. People are happier when they feel like they are being well-compensated for their time. That’s just human nature. The increased energy and positive attitude is very important when a person is going to be sitting through a focus group that might last two hours or a telephone interview that could go on for an hour.

2. Faster Recruit Times – Many qualitative research projects are conducted on a very tight timetable with inflexible deadlines. There’s usually a desire on the client’s part to get the results fast. In the case of a focus group, the difference between a quick project turnaround and something that drags out is usually the process of recruiting participants. A low rate of people willing to participate can force you to put more costly resources into recruit and/or reschedule the groups. Oftentimes, the incentives have to be raised midway through the process. We have found through our recruiting efforts at our Syracuse, NY call center, that high incentives make people more likely to agree to participate, or to at least entertain the idea before hanging up. Since an unproductive recruit can completely hamstring a qualitative project and throw timelines off, it only makes sense to reduce that risk through higher incentives.

3. Fewer No-Shows – What if you held a focus group and nobody came? Okay, that’s an unlikely worst case scenario, but an otherwise well-planned and executed focus group can be ruined by light participant turnout. In some cases, make-good groups have to be scheduled, which nobody wants. In the case of in-depth interviews, few things are more frustrating than calling an interview participant at a pre-arranged time only to find out that they are not available. High incentives can’t eliminate those problems completely, but they certainly help. It goes without saying that people who are willing to back out of a commitment that will pay them $40 will be much more hesitant to pass up $150.

 

4. Long-Term Savings – It may seem counterintuitive, but committing more money up front for incentives will usually result in lower overall project costs. The hours saved from having a higher incidence rate with recruiting calls and a reduced need to over-recruit to make up for no-shows will often more than cancel out the increased incentive costs. It is sometimes hard to convince people of those savings at the beginning of a project because they are anticipated, whereas high up-front incentive costs are immediate, but having worked on projects with both low and high incentives, we in the Bunker can vouch for the fact that the savings involved with the latter are very real.  

5. Positive Associations for the Research Sponsor – Every organization that conducts market research tells participants that they value their opinion, and most are sincere when they say it. Those who pay substantial incentives put their money where their mouth is and prove it, creating positive associations with the organization (assuming the research isn’t blinded) for a long time thereafter. On the other hand, offering an incentive that is seen as cheap or stingy can have the opposite effect. What kind of message does it send when people are asked to give up an hour or more of their time for a $10 gift card? At best, such an incentive would fail to generate interest, at worst it can insult the potential participant and leave a bad taste in their mouth. Why risk that?

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