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Catharine Hamrick June 7, 2021 6 min read

Learn More About Your Audience with Online Focus Groups

One of the best things about my job is learning about new clients and understanding what makes their people tick. This is one of the most important steps in creating effective benefits communication—and it’s also one of the most fun! That’s why any time I’m offered the opportunity to talk directly with a client’s employees or participants, I grab it. 

And that’s also why I jumped at the chance to start conducting online focus groups. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will lead to better, more effective benefits communications that help clients meet their business goals. 

But before I dig into online focus groups, let’s take a step back and talk about feedback in general. 

Ken Blanchard, a well-known leadership consultant, is credited with saying that "Feedback is the breakfast of champions." He later claimed to have heard it from a colleague, but it rings true no matter what the source. With a healthy dose of feedback, we gain new insight into our audience, giving us the fuel needed to perform at our highest level. We need feedback to improve the effectiveness of our communication, to make it the best it can be—and drive the actions or behaviors our clients want to achieve.

Every organization can benefit from asking their target audience—employees, participants, members, and their families—what works best for them. Having channels to gather feedback regularly is one of our 10 keys, and it’s crucial for successful communications. Creating effective feedback channels is also something that’s become even more critical during the pandemic, and it is one of the top trends this year.

An Innovative New Platform Delivers Real-Time Focus Group Results

People are generally very happy to weigh in with their opinions. However, orchestrating feedback often can feel too challenging, especially when it comes to focus groups. Yet there’s no doubt that we discover the richest insights from focus groups. 

That’s why we’re so excited about an innovative new platform we’ve recently introduced to our clients that allows us to have a live conversation with up to 1,000 people at a time! It all takes place online via text. And it uses artificial intelligence to analyze and organize the responses in real time.

For a client struggling with understanding what benefits their people value most and how they want to receive communication, this was a lifesaver. They hired us to conduct a series of focus groups in several states. When COVID-19 hit, the sessions had been postponed several times due to scheduling conflicts. When it became clear that there wouldn’t be any face-to-face sessions in 2020, our client agreed to try our new online platform. We worked together to develop a discussion guide and sent out invitations, just as we would if we were meeting in person. On the evening of the session, our client contacts were able to watch the session as it unfolded. By the end of the night, we heard loud and clear that the focus group participants want more information about their health plan, and they don’t want to dig for it. They know there are a lot of benefits offered to them, but they don’t know details about these benefits or where to go for more information. Our client contacts had no problem getting a budget approved to develop a new website when they were armed with quotes like this:

“I think the program offers a lot, but there is so much information I find it overwhelming. Wishing there was a way benefits could be broken down better.” 

“I’d like to look online, but our website is very busy and outdated. I wish it could be streamlined.” 

This client is just one of many receiving valuable information from these online focus group sessions. 

Why Our Clients Love Online Focus Groups

  • They’re easy to plan and execute. No more reserving rooms and ordering snacks, hoping people will show up. Schedule your sessions, and send the links to the participants in an email, or post on your intranet. It’s that simple.
  • The data is easy to slice and dice. Want to know whether your younger employees respond differently to your communications than those who are older? Do you suspect that the folks in IT aren’t motivated by the same things that engage your marketing colleagues? You can get the answers to those questions in real time. While responses are anonymous, each session begins with onboarding questions that allow you to see how opinions vary by segment.
  • Not only do our clients get feedback they can use, but they get it instantly. The platform provides rich information that can be understood and applied much more quickly than what is generated from traditional focus groups. And the platform makes the data available immediately. In fact, you can see how various segments are responding during the actual session. No more waiting for the facilitator to transcribe the session and write up the findings.
  • Unlike a survey, questions can be added on the fly. Let’s say that, while watching a session in progress, we unexpectedly learn that many people are confused about their dependent care FSA. We can instantly add an additional question and find out how they would prefer to learn about this valuable benefit.
  • The platform offers a great opportunity to educate your people. If your people are confused about the dependent care FSA, for example, you could also seize this opportunity to educate participants while you have a captive audience. Just type in the information you want them to see.

Why Focus Group Participants Love Online Focus Groups

  • They can join from anywhere. All participants need is the link to the session and a smartphone, tablet, or computer. They can participate from anywhere—sitting on a couch, behind a desk, or on their back porch soaking up the sun.
  • The sessions are engaging. A typical session uses a combination of polls and open-ended questions. After submitting answers to the latter, they participate in voting exercises, weighing in on the answers given by other participants. Do they agree or disagree with others’ statements? Which do they prefer more? It’s interactive and, honestly, a lot of fun!
  • They can speak openly. While surveys can protect anonymity, focus groups usually cannot. Our new platform changes that. We’ve found that participants are happy to share the good, the bad, and the ugly—with no concern about either hurting their colleagues’ feelings or any sort of negative repercussion.

Why I (as a Benefits Communicator) Love Online Focus Groups

At Segal Benz, we are proud of our mission to help great organizations inspire people to improve their health, their finances, and their futures. Facilitating these online sessions gives me a front-row seat to learn what is and isn’t working, directly from those we want to inspire. Since it’s now easier than ever to get rich feedback, I have more opportunity to improve the effectiveness of my communications. And making a difference is really what this job is all about!

We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.


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Catharine Hamrick

Catharine Hamrick, VP Senior Consultant, has been an HR communications professional for more than a decade, passing along her expertise to many of our largest engagements.