The addition of a first-class webcam to our research tool box made all the difference in the world in 2020. Our last live focus group was in Tifton, Georgia in March 2020. Then the pandemic set in.
After March 2020 live research stopped, masks became a lifesaving fashion statement and we all watched in dismay as COVID deaths mounted. Although the hard days of the pandemic are not over, there is a promise that normal (including live research) might return in months rather than years.
For now, we continue to schedule and conduct online discussion groups for our clients. Online discussion panels are not new to focus group research. Virtual panels have been part of qualitative research for years. The first virtual platforms we used years ago were clunky and a little slow. But 2020 changed all of that. When the major software companies began offering virtual options options exploded. We even created our own online suite working with a technology partner in Oregon. With our virtual platform we now provide our clients with on-point focus groups, including complex multi-day mock trials for legal clients.
Moving to 100% online focus groups was challenging and also fun. Adapting to the virtual focus group room required sharpening some skills and abandoning a few old methods. New discussion techniques emerged. Staging and “camera presence” became new concepts to worry about. The online format proved to be extremely productive in terms of yielding great research insights. In addition to being cost effective, online groups are:
· Great venues for gauging reactions to visual or video presentations
· Productive formats for allowing engaging discussions
· Excellent ways for bringing together a diverse set of participants
At the end of March 2020, we were a little concerned about the future of discussion panel research – our mainstay. Everything in the face-to-face research category essentially stopped. Initially, some clients were hesitant to move their projects to an online venue. Also, many, many clients worried about how COVID would impact or even re-shape public opinion and consumer behavior. Might research findings today be invalid just months from now? Will COVID make temporary dents in how we live or force long term adjustments in our economy, culture and politics? Is a permanent shift taking place in some areas of our lives – the impact of which has yet to settle in? The answers to these and a thousand other COVID related questions await us. But for now, we are simply happy to be working and helping our clients discover the insights they need to keep their projects moving forward.
In a year when terrible amounts of pain and heartache descended on so many families, the small group that makes up Crantford Research believes ourselves to be truly fortunate. We are still here doing what we love.