The State of Focus Group Facilities

During the first week of May, 12 facility owners answered a few questions. There were two objectives:

1. What has changed
2. What skills should we develop

Q1. What was the state of facilities prior to COVID19?

Focus group facilities provide both physical and virtual spaces for brands to connect with consumers.

2019 represented a banner year for large facilities. However, as one facility owner stated, projects that used to be done at facilities or by facilities have increasingly moved to internal teams.

“One word…Eroding.”

Why are some facilities seeing healthy growth over the last year while others are lagging behind?

“The old facility-only model has been dying a slow death for a while due to online options becoming so widespread.”

The growing focus group facilities learned to leverage their participants beyond a single type of study. Additionally, they have been actively digitalizing their offerings.

Q2. How has COVID19 impacted your business?

In a word, dramatically. However, focus group facilities that had multiple revenue lines are supplementing their income accordingly…

“Facility business is nonexistent right now. Luckily it’s not our primary line of business. We do mostly full-service research and nationwide recruiting, both of which are plugging along right now.”

Q3. What will be the biggest challenges facilities will continue to face post COVID19?

Challenging times are in front of us all. Focus group facility operators are thinking about:

1. Facility utilization will be totally different. It used to be the case you could have eight or more participants in a focus group room. Not with a 6-foot seating requirement.
2. Cleaning regiments will become much more rigorous.
3. Participants will be harder to recruit thus driving up incentives.
4. Travel will be less accessible and more expensive.

The good news is that several participants stated their customers are actively asking when they can start doing in-person research again.

“Clients ARE already asking when in-person can begin again. They DO want to get back to it – but there will need to be understanding, compassion, and an industry-wide push to ‘okay’ increased pricing, based on the demands and costs this will place on facilities.”

Q4. What are the biggest opportunities for focus group facilities?

Diversification is the word here.

“All in all, the opportunity is in growing beyond the facility environment – while still keeping that work in play.

There are ways to replace this loss of business, and groups WILL still happen in-person. But learning new methods of research, ways of working and training staff will save jobs, and develop employees.”

The more you think of your facilities as a place for technology-enabled insights, the better equipped you’ll be to meet the growth opportunities post-covid19.

Augmented reality, virtual reality, clinical research, taste tests, traditional focus groups, user experience research, stimuli research, etc. These are some of the options you should be focusing on to ensure you have the right tools available for the customers’ study.

Q5. What research skills will grow in demand over the coming years?

Some of the answers surprised me but, after thinking it through, make perfect sense.

1. Quick hit digital-based qual.
2. Mobile ethnography.
3. Facial tracking.
4. Rapid prototyping with 3-D printing.

For me, I’m betting on research education. As user experience and market research tools continue to grow in both number of options and utilization, they are being employed by non-researchers.

Why is this an issue?

As I’ve said many times, just because you have a scalpel doesn’t mean you should perform surgery.

However, that isn’t stopping anyone from doing research. So, how do we solve for this? Embedding “how-tos” into the actual instruments we are using.

Additionally, offering to do trainings with your customers. Not just on your tool or service, but on basic research best practices like, How to Ask a Participant a Good Research Question.

There is much that we know about our craft that we take for granted and need to be passed along. Don’t forget that.

Special thanks to the following facilities that added their voice to this research: Insights Loft, Nordic Viewpoint, Schlesinger Group, Canada Market Research, Atkins Research Global, GreatBlue Research, Creative Consumer Research, Fieldwork, Accelerant Research, The Focus Room, Murray Hill National.