We’re counting down the Top 10 posts of 2011 on “Innovation Evolved”. Originally published June 6, here’s #1 on the countdown!

Because focus groups still represent the majority of revenue for qualitative research, they are a ripe target for research innovators. To paraphrase Beth Karawan Craig (@bhk), everyone wants to re-invent the focus group. Tanzina Vega of The New York Times has the story:

  • Spark, an MR firm in New York, has participants go on a “Sensory Safari”, creating large collages. David Rubin, the marketing director for hair care at Unilever, reported that “watching the women gave the company deeper insight into how to approach consumers”.
  • Young & Laramore wants to “kill” the traditional focus group, replacing it with in-depth personal interviews supplemented by consumer diaries.
  • Egg Strategy uses a cellphone application to prompt respondents about products that they might be uncomfortable discussing in front of strangers, such as beer, condoms, cigarettes and hygiene products.
  • Ogilvy & Mather has used Facebook Groups to run virtual focus groups, doing an end run around vendors of qualitative research software. Why? Because consumers are already on Facebook, making it a natural environment for them.

Ravi Dhar, a professor of marketing at Yale, said that focus groups work well for limited applications, such as ideation in new product development, but are not as useful for testing products or concepts.

With all this competition, don’t be surprised if during this decade the majority of qualitative research revenue comes from online exercises instead of offline methods such as the traditional focus group.