Focus Groups’ Place in an Ever More Crowded
Qualitative World

Adapted from Robert Lederer's Research Conference Report.

Judy Langer, President of Langer Qualitative, LLC (New York, NY) has earned her reputation as a leading industry spokesperson for qualitative research, particularly traditional techniques. While Langer was a relatively early user of online qualitative research techniques, she has strongly criticized the move to totally replace in-person focus groups with online bulletin boards.

At January's AMA Executive Insighyts Conference, Langer described focus groups as “the world’s most commonly-used qualitative research technique . . . and also the most intensely criticized.” The technique has been admonished by “some clients, some researchers with alternative QLR methods, the media (who equate focus groups with all MR) and some best-selling authors.” The latter was a reference to Malcolm Gladwell, who in his 2005 book “Blink,” questioned the usefulness of focus groups. She also highlighted the chiding of Melbourne Business School Associate Professor of Marketing Mark Ritson about focus groups “taking people out of their natural context and putting them with strangers in an alien situation and asking them abstract questions.”

Langer detailed critics’ long-standing problems with focus groups, some of which, she admitted, are real but she reviewed the list one-by-one. She noted qualitative options to focus groups, but also pointed out growing variations of focus groups (creativity sessions, consumer workshops, dyads/triads, super groups, friendship circles, deliberative groups and more), which can take place place in nontraditional locations (home, auditoriums, living-room style facilities) and number of respondents (from 2 to 100).

Langer claimed politics has become part of the chosen QLR method, and she explained instances ideal for online and ethnography methodologies. Summing up, Langer stated that “efficiency, dynanism and insights will continue to make focus groups a valuable technique, though they will be used more selectively, both for the right (research) and the wrong (political, trendy) reasons.”

Getting More from Focus Groups
  • Respondent pre-work (diaries, shopping, collages, video recording and mobile text messaging)
  • Enhanced verbal and visual techniques
    • mix of direct/indirect techniques
    • going deeper through conversational tone, interest
    • level and follow-up at the opportune moment
    • thinking, not just asking
    • behavior observation
    • exercises
    • laddering
    • projective verbal & visual exercises

Source: Judy Langer, Langer Qualitative LLC