How product innovators can use virtual focus groups and other new formats to develop more useful products with less waste and lower cost.

By Product Dragon—Nonprofit helping ethical product innovators

Online focus groups are one of the best tools for new product development. Their speed and relative low cost make them a common step in early-stage product concept testing. Compared with in-person focus groups, online (or “virtual”) groups delivering a bundle of advantages with few downsides.

Getting early and inexpensive product feedback is one key to creating value with minimal waste, and efficient innovation is a tenet of Product Dragon’s ethical innovation mandate. Written for new product innovators who want to develop good products, this article introduces several types of online focus groups, discusses their advantages, and touches on focus group costs.

Online (remote) focus groups became more popular when video conference technology became ubiquitous.

Why do a focus group at all?

Like other forms of good research and planning, focus groups are effort multipliers.

Focus groups are most useful for very innovative product concepts, or when introducing an existing product to a new market. It takes significant amounts of time and resources to develop and launch a new product, so any tool that can reduce total costs and increase the likelihood of product success is worth considering.

Online surveys are appropriate when you know exactly what to ask, and how to ask it. But focus groups require less structure and capture more nuanced responses, which is often needed in the early product concept phase.

Traditional focus groups often have around 10 participants and one moderator.

A focus group is typically appropriate for a product idea when you want to:

  1. Validate your product concept: Test the appeal of a new product idea and determine if there may be a market for it. This can help you identify any potential roadblocks or areas for improvement before investing significant time and resources into development.
  2. Gather qualitative feedback: Get consumer feedback on product features, design, pricing, and overall concept. This can help you create a product that meets the needs of your target market.
  3. Observe consumer behavior: Participant body language and specific word choice gives valuable insights into their subconscious thoughts. Such data cannot be captured with questionnaires.
  4. Evaluate competitive products and prototypes