This is the text as it appeared in Marketing News, March 3, 1997

Internet Focus Groups: An Oxymoron

by Tom Greenbaum

Marketing Lesson:
The use and overall popularity of the Internet, as well as attampts to use the medium to collect market research data, will continue to grow dramatically. Claims of Conducting focus groups on the Internet show a complete lack of understanding of why properly conducted groups can be effective in collecting information. More companies will try to use the chat format on the Net to conduct qualitative research. But chats are not focus groups. To call them such is technically incorrect and denigrates this research methodology.

In the 1990's, we have seen the emergence of two very important trends that will have long- lasting effects on how products and services are sold to the public.

Focus group research, which has been used broadly since the 1960's, seems to have surfaced as an even more important marketing tool in the 1990's as virtually every type of industry has begun to adopt it as a primary tool to evaluate the attitudes of customers and prospects.

At the same time, the 1990's has seen the emergence of the Internet, with access now available to millions of people worldwide. Most business, government, educational, and non-profit entities have their own Web sites that provide information or sell products or services.

The Internet has become such a part of the American society that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that probably will set standards for what can and cannot be communicated on the Internet, at least in the U.S.

In recent months, there has been some advertising and direct mail solicitation by market research companies offering to conduct focus groups on the Internet. The offers say that this represents a much less expensive and quicker way to implement qualitative research.

If organizations want to provide qualitative research services using the Internet, there is no reason why this cannot become a part of the research arsenal. But this type of research must not be called focus groups because on-line chat sessions lack some of the most important elements of focus group research.

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