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Market Research Ignorance

Recently, I was invited to participate in a focus group for women regarding casual restaurants. The panel consisted of eight other young women who frequented casual restaurants enough to be informed on the subject to be able to properly provide information regarding them.

The focus group started off well enough - the panel conductor introduced herself, and asked us to do the same. She did this to simply create a better group dynamic, not for record collection purposes. She then proceeded to ask us to write down our top five casual restaurants on a piece of paper. Once done, as a group we compiled a listing of these restaurants. There was a lot of overlap, especially with the big popular chain restaurants. The more obscure restaurants were crossed off from the list, and the conductor asked us to focus in on three particularly trendy restaurants. The women in the group then freely began voicing their opinions to the conductor on these selected restaurants. When a crossed off restaurant made its way back into the discussion, the conductor gently guided the group back to the discussion of the top three restaurants. This is where things got interesting.

One of the women in the group could not understand why the discussion could not involve the restaurants crossed from the list. After becoming defensive about her favorite restaurant (which happened to be crossed off), she began questioning the panel conductor and demanded to know what the "real" purpose behind the focus group was. Another woman, who interestingly enough, knew the woman who was at this point irate, joined in. The panel conductor tactfully answered some of their questions until she realized the women had no interest in listening to what she had to say. She then stopped answering questions and asked the women to leave.

At first the women refused, but at the mention of receiving their focus group participation payment in full, started to get up and leave. Before leaving the room, the woman who started the argument asked the survey conductor if the whole point behind the focus group was to answer questions about one particular restaurant chain, because they were the ones who hired the research company to conduct the focus group. The conductor, exasperated with the time that had been already wasted and the obvious nature of the question, loudly proclaimed "But of course!"

Once the women who had been removed from the focus group completely left (although not before voicing their dissatisfaction to the receptionist), the rest of us remaining told the survey conductor she handled the situation well. Throughout the entirety of the event, the rest of us focus participants simply sat and listened...

The situation was rather a disappointing one. Out of the nine women who showed up, only seven of us were left - most of us confused about what had just transpired. The survey conductor was left frazzled and upset and I'm sure the restaurant chain that hired the market research company was also disappointed.

So, what is the point of me telling you this story?

This story is simply a classic example of how a little bit of ignorance can turn a well-intentioned assignment into a needless disagreement. Had the women who were kicked out realized the purpose behind the focus group, and appreciated that the point of a focus group is to literally "focus" on something, they likely would not have caused such a disturbance. Focus groups are not about manipulating panelists - it's about asking questions at the right time, in the correct sequence, sometimes by use of "lead ins". Market researchers companies are professionals at this, as they know when and how to ask questions to receive the type of response they are looking for. As this is their expertise, major corporations hire them to conduct exactly this type of research.

Remember that with survey taking and focus group participation, you are getting paid for your opinions; your opinions on a specified topic that is. It's great that we all have thoughts about products, services, people, places, and things, but the company who has hired the market research firm to conduct the survey is only interested in having panelists answer the questions they need answered - this is why they are willing to pay for this type of valuable information.

Focus group participation and survey taking can be fun and interesting. You quickly discover what your likes and dislikes are, and it's neat to have somebody not only listen, but also pay you for what you have to say. If there is a survey or focus group you feel you would not enjoy participating in - don't! This is why surveys and focus groups are voluntary to participate in. Keep in mind (literally) that you can always save your opinions for topics you would be more interested in answering questions about.

You may also wonder about the sequence of questions in a survey or focus group. Just consider that question sequence serves a purpose, one that may not always be obvious to you as the participant. If you answer questions truthfully and with effort, you will realize you are taking part in a larger system that directly allows you to influence the goods and services of the future.

Make a difference, and have fun while you're at it. Happy survey taking!

Veronica Dubak is a SEO expert, internet entrepreneur, and the owner of the successful SurveyBounty.com free online paid surveys directory. With a comprehensive listing of market research companies classified by region, and background information on the online survey industry, SurveyBounty.com is the legitimate source for online survey information.

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