Focus Group Etiquette: When Can You Break Down the Glass?
By Carrie Blasko

The one-way mirror, the unspoken DMZ of qualitative research, has stood for years as a physical reminder that corporations and customers should not mix. Pre-focus groups memos stress the importance of not wearing white in the backroom, showing up early, and carefully concealing your corporate identity. Our goal has been to hide in the shadows of the backroom while watching insights organically bubble up from consumers who are completely oblivious to the hive of activity lurking just feet away from them.

An evolving, technology based marketplace has given consumers greater access to the inner workings of corporations, breaching the veil of secrecy that has existing for decades in so many areas. So, when should research break down the mirror and embrace collaboration, and when should it hold on to the tradition of separation?

Protect the glass:

There are circumstances in which the separation between consumers and clients is vital to achieving the research objectives. Typically, these conversations benefit from a moderator facilitated group dynamic and fewer people in the room. This creates an environment for unfiltered opinions about category/brand/product experiences and/or reactions to stimuli produced by the client. This type of research typically falls into the category of foundational research such as: concept evaluation and optimization, advertising evaluation, and category usage and attitudes.

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Breaking the glass:

The underlying goal of in-person, central location research is to get articulate consumers in a room to talk about their needs, wants, and experiences. Rather than using a moderator as the liaison from the consumer to the client, it often makes sense to use the moderator as a facilitator of collaboration between the two. This collaborative environment works well when hands-on product testing, user experience testing, or technical content is part of a discussion. In B2B research, it is often fascinating to see the interaction between a product user and creator who are actively working to articulate unmet needs and instantaneously solve them.

Early stage or innovation research can also benefit from consumer-client collaboration because the needs and abilities of both parties are represented. Rather than an iterative process of creation, critique, optimize, critique- the two parties are working together to develop a product which meets the needs of the consumer. These sessions often lead to a spark which ignites the innovation pipeline or shut down a failed idea before it requires extensive resources.

We’d love to hear when you protect or break the glass.  Comment below!

Related: 10 Tips to Staying Healthy in a Focus Group’s Backroom

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