Ford Motor Co. started conducting live online focus groups for market research more than a year ago.
Typically, in an invitation-only 'chat room,' a moderator gives some information and asks questions. Participants at the same time type their answers or comments.
Only a few other car companies have followed suit, including Acura Division.
Art Redmond, Ford's executive director of global consumer insights, has overseen at least 15 online focus groups in that time, mostly for advanced product research. He was interviewed by Staff Reporter Julie Cantwell.
How many people on average participate in an online focus group?
We limit it to between 12 and 20 consumers; otherwise, it gets confusing. Forty or 50 Ford employees observe.
How effective are online focus groups compared with traditional focus groups?
For hypothesis development, I would say online focus groups are just as effective as traditional groups. Usually, at that stage, it's to get clarification on some quantitative areas or to get some initial reactions to a new concept.
Will online focus groups ever replace face to face?
No. It still has a lot of limitations - confidential areas and control. Regardless of how good the technology is, it's not as well controlled as a traditional, face-to-face focus group is. There will be more people who will come on board to give it a shot, but I expect that it will never get to be more than 20 or 30 percent of all the in-house qualitative (research) that organizations do.
What is the cost of a face-to-face focus group compared with an online group?
There are cost advantages in terms of going online. Big ones? Not enough to sway the decision one way or the other. Usually, the cost savings are more in-house, with travel. Costs of the research are not big differences today.
What are some of the other benefits in taking focus groups online?
It gives opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn't have attended.
What are the disadvantages online?
It's very difficult in our advanced product research work, for instance, to communicate or to visualize the prototype via the Internet to get some reaction to it. The moderator has a little more control in a face-to-face group. And sometimes face to face is a little more effective in terms of doing some of the in-depth probing that you like to get from consumers.