Over the past three months, it seems like the perception of AI has evolved from an emerging opportunity in many areas of our day-to-day to the panacea for all of society’s woes. I’ve never seen so much rampant spam and buzzword-forward marketing in my 12+ years of doing this – sometimes I find it humorous, but mostly it’s a nuisance. As our team continues to vet and thoughtfully implement AI-centric tools and resources, many marketers have completely gone all in, feet first.

The AI gaffes have been numerous, from social and racial bias to completely fabricating legal insights, which has become a widespread example of what’s to come. While I would be the first to validate there are many more pros of these AI developments than cons, there are simply situations that AI cannot be substituted in for and may hardly be able to assist in. In situations somewhere along the lines of “of the people, by the people, for the people,” AI literally has no leg to stand on. One of these examples is getting direct feedback from people about a service for people which can only be administered by people (or perhaps, in some ways, minimally AI-assisted), such as legal services. Marketers can tell you all day about the data, analytics, search behaviors, etc. that may dictate what people may do, but there’s no proof like the objective facts that come directly from focus group participants.

What Are Focus Groups?

The term “focus group” was coined just over 30 years ago (surprisingly, during a time when the concept of Artificial Intelligence had already been in use for about 40 years). Though there’s documentation of the concept of focus groups being used as early as the 1940s—and I vaguely remember their inclusion in the show Mad Men—the evolution of a focus group has been streamlined especially quickly in the past decade with the advent of much smoother video conferencing, smartphone utilization, and easier ways of remote participation.

What makes focus groups so appealing today is the blunt realization that data and feedback seem extremely disingenuous and engineered. Forms of marketing are as cyclical as anything else in life. It certainly feels like we’re entering a phase where “getting back to our roots” in regards to extrapolating valuable, consequential information that guides our business is highly important (in addition to writing all of this content without any AI or ChatGPT assistance).

In a focus group, you’ll have participants actively answering questions about your business and its messaging, imagery, branding, and so on. They normally involve 5-8 individuals and last an hour or longer. The amount of information you can receive in that time is astounding, especially if you’re going through a rebrand, feel that you’re losing market share, or are launching a new service or into a new vertical.

5 Benefits of Organizing a Remote Focus Group

As far as how the focus groups are facilitated, I suppose it wouldn’t be any surprise to hear that focus groups can be conducted online via platforms like Zoom with high participation rates and excellent feedback.

You can control the audience

Some of the initial reservations were where the participants were going to be located. If we have a business operating in California, do we want feedback and opinions from New Yorkers? Probably not. Focus groups are selective about where people are located down to the city level so the feedback is more relevant geographically. For major markets like LA and NYC, you could likely get participants completely within the city limits. For smaller markets like Fort Lauderdale and Austin, you could still likely get a full group of people within the city or the immediate surrounding areas.

In addition to geography, you can prevent participants by the general demographic you’d see in most forms of advertising – marital status, sex or gender, level of education, and so on. If you are drilled down on your demo via these “qualifiers,” then you may absolutely narrow down accordingly (though the geo part may become more limited). In our studies, we preferred to use a prevention technique for people’s perception of lawyers in general. In other words, we asked people the question ahead of time “On a scale from 1-10, what is your perception of the lawyer profession? 1 being high unfavorable, 10 being very favorable.” We opted for people within the 4-6 range to keep the bias/perception as neutral as possible. Any extreme notions of the profession could compromise the entire session.

The insight transcends surveys or word of mouth

Up until this point, I thought I would have heard everything I needed to from past, present, and potential clients of law firms and other businesses about how they search online and how they choose. This changed in the past several weeks when I started hearing responses like:

“I would choose the firm that is open between 9 AM – 10 PM instead of 9 AM – 8 PM because all of my accidents happened at nighttime”

“I like picking the firms with Google Ads because if they have money for those, that means they’re probably doing a good job”

“I hate law firms with billboards because they’re probably sitting around figuring out the designs instead of practicing law”

Any one statement wouldn’t change the direction of your entire firm’s branding and marketing strategy, but it’d be something to consider depending on what demographics are saying it and how frequent this sentiment may be. Either way, many of these insights end up leading to numerous angles you may have never otherwise considered.

Feedback is quick and cost-effective

Because many of the questions are direct and sometimes use what is called “heatmaps,” it doesn’t take a ton of analysis afterward to be able to compile clear answers and feedback to the questions presented.

Examples are:

  • Conducting a local search on Google and explaining why the search was conducted and which search result was most appealing
  • Comparing your firm’s Google Maps listing to competition and comparing review context, review quality, review quantity, etc.
  • Looking at your website and providing direct feedback on messaging, color scheme, imagery, layout/navigation, etc.

The manner in which these questions are asked is also geared to remain consistent, even when other participants’ answers may otherwise skew or alter the answers that were about to be provided.

As far as the costs, because this can be facilitated fairly easily and is remote, the costs are a fraction of a traditional in-person focus group.

The data/feedback is very clear

There’s no room for inaccurately interpreting one-dimensional feedback or numerical data. The feedback being provided is direct from the participant, with the video component uncovering any non-verbal communication cues (if you’re so inclined to observe those specifically). During a focus group, the facilitator is also able to ask follow-up questions in real-time, often resulting in especially critical details.

The data/feedback is extremely simple to share

Remote sessions are recorded and easily shared with all interested parties with the click of one link!

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