Focus groups have a substantial impact on how businesses operate and the products they bring to market. For example, did you know that Twitter was originally designed to share podcasts? Most likely you had no idea – and that’s because Twitter ran a focus group and feedback showed this wasn’t what users wanted from a social network. They’re hardly alone in relying so heavily on consumer, as well as employee, feedback. Focus groups regularly lead businesses to change course.  

While focus groups are a traditional way for businesses to solicit ideas and fine tune product offerings, as technology becomes a more important part of every professional process, how focus groups work is also changing, and businesses are struggling to strike a balance. Some tools are hugely valuable, preventing product design mistakes. Others, though, may be holding back the process. Companies need to be tech-savvy to determine which tech tools will help them key in to consumer needs and which are interfering with a clear-cut feedback method.

Recorded Responses

One of the best innovations to hit the focus group world are video systems that take recorded responses to the next level. It’s easy to set up cameras in the test room, sure, but improved platforms like VALT can store responses in a searchable database and allows users to tag key information or moments in the product test. These recordings make it easy for businesses to review feedback, take notes, and study subtle cues.

AI Analysis

Recording responses may have a lot of benefits for companies that want to get the most information out of their focus groups, but businesses need to be cautious about who – or what – they have analyzing that content. For example, there’s been an emphasis on using AI to assess human emotions, such as how people respond when they see an advertisement or taste a new food. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, since AI is unbiased and can detect “tells” like micromovements that may reveal more than more obvious, controlled expressions. But how accurate is AI emotion analysis?

There are a lot of concerns about whether AI can accurately assess emotions across populations, especially when it comes to analyzing the faces of people of color. AI is also ill-equipped to evaluate cultural differences in facial expressions, the subtle differences in what narrowed eyes or a small smile mean in different places. At present, most businesses are better off avoiding emotion-sensing AI if they want accurate data.

Stay Social

Much of what businesses think of as “focus groups” aren’t what the average person thinks of – a group gathered in a room giving feedback to a company representative. Rather, businesses often gather feedback by trolling social platforms or digging through other communication systems. Using social listening obviously doesn’t replace pre-sale focus groups since it relies on information about existing products, but it can help businesses identify what customers would like to see next, as well as how current offerings serve them. People spend a lot of time venting about brands online and social listening allows brands to use Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other platforms as pseudo-focus groups.

Focus groups bring the consumer voice directly to producers and they offer valuable insight, determining what the next hot ticket item is. These popular products don’t appear out of thin air, but based on all the information buyers feed into the system. Companies need to be cautious about how they maintain these connections – what technologies they employ, how they organize their databases, and who they listen to – to ensure the best outcomes.