Online Focus Groups & The Electric Kettle


Since the late 1990s when Online Focus Groups first burst onto the scene, they haven’t evolved much. In many ways they are still in their premature and somewhat even naive incarnation. Very much like when the first electric kettles were introduced. Manufacturers understood that this had to be the next step in the water heating evolution but didn’t quite get the extent of it.

Lets examine the early electric kettles as a metaphor for today’s Online Focus Groups.


Swan electric kettle, Museum of Liverpool

The kettle above is the first electric kettle with a built-in heating element. It was first introduced in England at the early 20s of the last century.  Looking at the shape of it and its features, it resembles much more a stovetop kettle rather than the modern Electric kettle used today. Why is that?

The inventor of the electric kettle took the common kettle that was used at the time and simply added a heating element and a power outlet. They didn’t see the other opportunities that this massive change of the heating source created.

For starters, look at where the handle is located.

The first electric kettles came with handles located at the top. This location made a lot of sense for the common kettles of that time, where fire was burning under the kettle. Obviously, you wanted to hold these kettles as far as possible from the burning flames.

This isn’t the case with the electric kettle where the heating source is now located inside the water container. The engineers could put the handle wherever they wanted to.

Actually, they would have rather located the handle as far as possible from the spout where hot steam comes out. In modern electric kettles the handle is located on the opposite side of the spout, which also makes pouring water a lot easier.

Now find the differences


For the most part today’s Online Focus Groups are still very premature just like the early electric kettles. They provide a very simplistic alternative to the In-Person Focus Groups, as they still haven’t migrated completely to their online reincarnation and realized all the benefits that can be gained from that.

Lets put ourselves in the mind of Online Focus Groups creators for a second.

The objective was very clear: In-Person Focus Groups are slow, expensive and – equally as important –  single location limited.

The solution seemed clear as well: Lets run focus groups online and all those things that we don’t like about them will go away. Just like in so many other disciplines, ‘online’ seemed to be the magic recipe.


The benefits that Online Focus Groups currently provide are very limited. Actually the only ones I can think of are the elimination of travel and the potential to reach beyond a single location. They do not really provide many benefits beyond this:

  • Size of group did not change. Even online, a single moderator rarely talks to more than 8-12 people
  • Transcripts are very basic. Typically you just get simple deliverables such as webcam recording and chat transcripts
  • Backroom interaction has not been improved either. In this era of collaboration, there has to be a better way

And finally we have to admit it –  If there is one thing that we love about focus groups – it would be the  ‘Physical Presence’. In Online Focus Groups even when using webcams, reading facial expression is extremely limited and sometimes even deceiving.

So not everything can be replicated online (yet), but in the trade-off game, Online Focus Groups are currently losing.


For almost 2 decades now, Online Focus Groups didn’t transcend beyond being a handicapped replica of the In-Person Focus Groups, while the potential of  the ‘online’ is almost limitless!

ONLINE- you can talk to hundreds of participants simultaneously and get quantitative validation to what they are saying.

ONLINE- you can incorporate real-time data analysis with text analytics, tabulation and statistical tests that provide real-time decision making.

ONLINE- you can source sample from anywhere: panels, social media, loyalty lists.

ONLINE- you can have as many stakeholders as you’d like involved in the the discussion.

And this is exactly what Invoke Large Scale Focus Groups™ is about! taking focus groups to their inevitable next step of the evolution, by fully harnessing the powers of ‘Online’ and by providing all those great benefits research deserves.

Now, I would love to hear your opinions about water heating … I mean, about Online Focus Groups.

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