Although less than 1% of the world’s population currently participates in virtual worlds – such as Second Life – these online platforms are poised to play increasingly important roles in the business community. In fact, several major businesses, including American Apparel and Toyota, and have already begun using virtual worlds to spread brand awareness. And the list of companies utilizing such platforms is only expected to grow.
One of the most intriguing and effective ways in which the business world is integrating with the virtual world is in the realm of market research, most notably focus groups. For example, the iAsk Center on Second Life allows for the research of Second Life “residents,” as well as real-life respondents who become part of the virtual world.
Benefits of Virtual Focus Groups
- Real World Feel: Online focus groups, such as the iAsk Center, are built with the real life focus group facility in mind andinclude: conference rooms, mirrored rooms, client observation areas, client lounges, and more.
- Cost Effective: The costs of virtual market research do not even begin to compare to the travel and facility costs of traditional focus groups. Market researchers no longer need to physically house respondents. Everything takes place online, in the virtual world.
- Geo-Restrictions: Unlike real world focus groups, virtual world focus groups are not restricted by their geographical location. Market researchers can bring together respondents from not only across the country, but also across the world.
- “Field” Testing: When market researchers need to conduct real world field testing, the process is time consuming, expensive, unpredictable, and laborious. Virtual simulations provide a much more reliable, predictable, and convenient research environment.
- Concealed Identity: Conducting research on sensitive issues can be more effective when the respondents’ identity is unknown.
- Control: In the virtual world, market researchers can easily control every variable of the research environment.
The line between reality and virtual worlds is becoming increasingly blurred!
The potential benefits of conducting market research in a virtual environment are exciting, this type of research does have its drawbacks.
Disadvantages of Virtual Focus Groups
- Validity: In a virtual world, people can be whoever they want to be. And while this may be great for them, it makes it difficult to conduct focus groups targeted at specific demographics.
- Body Language: In virtual focus groups, moderators are not able to see a respondent’s expressions, reactions, or body language. Observing how people feel is a valuable tool in qualitative research.
Virtual focus groups will not replace traditional, real life focus groups any time soon.
We hope you have enjoyed our mini-series, Technology in Market Research. If you have any suggestions for other market research technologies you would like us to profile in the future, please send them to Mira Davis-Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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