Mashed Potatoes, Mac ‘N’ Cheese and Focus Groups

​Andrea Schrager
Marketing Insights e-newsletter
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Key Takeaways

  • Focus groups allow participants to easily interact with each other in a personal way to help flesh out an idea.

  • It’s not only what words people use, but also body language and how enthusiastically they convey and defend their ideas to others.

  • Focus groups are not about averages or bell curves. One idea expressed by one respondent in one group can spark a robust discussion that leads to insights.

What do mashed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese and focus groups have in common? They all keep changing to stay relevant to their advocates, and to attract new ones.

Mashed potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese have been updated and reinvented. While you can still get the traditional versions, you now can get mashed potatoes with intriguing toppings served in martini glasses and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. The fact is that the way they look, how you eat them and where they are served might have changed, but their core ingredients have not. Just as the core elementsand valueof focus groups has not changed.

I could spend the time debunking all the reasons people give predicting the demise of focus groups, but I would rather concentrate on those core values that continue to make them relevant today and into the future. Don’t just take my word for it. I also asked for insights from other qualitative research consultants and have included their thoughts. So here are our collective top reasons why focus groups continue to be relevant.

Look me in the eye and try to lie

An insightful consultant has the ability to sense how people feel and to use the cues they receive from respondents to draw out deeply rooted emotional drivers. A focus group setting facilitates this process as both the moderator and respondents offer mutual support while discussing virtually any topic.

Tell me how you really feel

A skilled moderator takes advantage of dissent in a group and, when appropriate, will encourage it to allow participants the latitude to voluntarily defend their points of view. In so doing, their innermost thoughts and feelings are brought to the surface, along with how they defend their choices to themselves and others.

There is a needle in that haystack

Focus groups are not about averages or bell curves. One idea expressed by one respondent in one group can spark a robust discussion that leads to insights beyond the expected. At the same time, focus groups also allow participants to easily interact with each other in a personal way to help flesh out an idea, clarify points and fill in the gaps through sharing of their own stories and experiences.

See me, feel me

Words alone do not fully convey emotions and attitudes. It’s not only what words, but also body language and how enthusiastically people convey and defend their ideas to others, that give us true insights into their point of view and strength of conviction.

So how does this relate to mashed potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese? They both expanded their essence by adding ingredients, selling in new venues and repackaging themselves in order to remain relevant. In the same manner, focus groups and the moderators who conduct them need to counter potential client fatigue with focus group methods by refreshing their approach, integrating technologies and looking to unique configurations and venues. But the core value of focus groups remains the same regardless of the techniques and twists that might be added. By staying true to these core values, the relevance of focus groups remains intact today and into the future. ​


Author Bio:

 
​Andrea Schrager
Andrea Schrager is a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) and CEO of Consumer Centers of New York and New Jersey, a global marketing research and consulting company. She is an active participant on the QRCA Field Committee and is the recipient of New Jersey’s 2013 Best Fifty Women in Business Award. Consumer Centers is a Nationally Certified Women's Business Enterprise.
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