Focus Groups – Success, Risk and Economic Realities

Invoke Invoke Solutions Online Research Qualitative Quantitative Focus Groups risk management and economic realities economics, focus groups,online focus groups, online market research, qual, qualitative, quant, quantitative, risk, risk managementChristina Hart was vexed. Having moved to the Midwest to join ConsumerCo six months ago as the new SVP of Marketing with a well-deserved get-it-done reputation, she was struggling with the new directive from the CFO to “increase cost efficiencies – no exceptions.”

Especially since she just received the results and cost breakouts of the recently concluded Focus Group exercise her team had performed, testing Version 2 of Whizbang – a product line the company is depending on as a key to its future success. The local focus groups ConsumerCo conducted on the initial version last year proved to be overly positive and didn’t accurately predict the product’s actual disappointing performance. Some colleagues had even hinted that this disparity created the job opening that she took. This time, the four, same-day, focus groups took three weeks to plan and involved 37 total participants from just outside Chris’s native New York City. While Tim Champion, her lead director, had submitted a uniformly positive report, the other team members noted some negatives – but each noted different negatives.

In addition, Christina was concerned that limiting their focus groups to a New York audience may have some risks – New Yorkers, she well knew, sometimes look at things differently than those in other parts of the country.  And the team’s New York expenses were not something she was looking forward to submitting. Finally, while her instincts told her to repeat the focus groups to increase the sample set and get more consistent insights – maybe in Denver and Atlanta to reduce the risk of regional biases, the CFO’s directive sat on her desk like a big red STOP sign. So, she needed to balance some risks, and balance them quickly:

  • Is the input gathered from 37 people sufficient to move forward?
  • This focus group input is from one region, just like the-less-than-successful Version 1. Is she now faced with a similar regional bias?
  • The qualitative feedback from the focus group team is inconsistent – not just positive vs. negative, but even some discrepancies among the negatives. The quant data is straightforward and can be analyzed, but how much confidence can she place in such contrasting results?
  • Then there was the one male participant who seemed to dominate the third group. How comfortable can she be with the responses from the other seven participants given the presence of this dominant voice?
  • Since the focus group planning takes three weeks, does she have the time to run multiple groups in multiple regions, and still contribute meaningfully to the Version 2 development cycle?
  • And the costs…. Can she afford the financial risk – and now the career risk – involved with conducting more sessions? Can she afford not to?

How would you advise Christina?


  • Jim Stith says:

    Interesting thoughts, Tom.

    I’d say, ‘Tough luck.’

    She has no choice other than going to the CFO and the development team to work out a compromise. It’s the lesser of two; she either spends the dough or lives with the consequences of a small focus group.

  • Tom Roan says:

    Thanks for your comments, Jim. We’re hopeful that Christina can think about and look into tools and techniques that go beyond the fairly stark choices presented in the case study. Let’s keep our eyes open and see whether anyone can suggest different alternatives that can achieve the same goal.

  • hmartincalle says:

    If they’re caught up in the cost of doing a few focus groups they’re not going anywhere anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.