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8 Mar 2010

Focus groups deliver twice the value

by Anna Dixon

Focus groups should play a significant role in any project scoping and user-centered design process, helping   agencies to fully understand a client's audience and their motivations, requirements and goals for the client's website before any digital work starts.  We believe that only through combining the project brief with the client's business objectives, target audience insights and the agency's expertise - what we term 'strategic orienteering' - will the perfect solution be developed.

However, the value focus groups provide doesn't stop there.  In addition to helping the agency live and breathe the brand or organisation, focus groups also encourage 'buy-in' from key client stakeholders and ensure that the audience feels involved and considered throughout, and therefore positive about the changes ahead.

Wickedweb has recently run a series of focus groups with Kings Hall prep school and Kings College in Taunton, Somerset, which provides a perfect example of the 'double value' that focus groups can deliver.

During the user research sessions, we met over 100 members of the target audience through 20 focus groups, ranging from catering and teaching staff at the schools, to Head Boys and Girls, students of all ages, parents associations and groundsmen.

From the agency's perspective, our understanding of the schools' ethos and strong sense of community became clear so the online representation of the schools will be able to closely reflect this.  From the client's perspective, there is now buy-in from key stakeholders including the Head Masters, the marketing team and financial director, who are both confident in the value the project can deliver and Wickedweb's expertise as the schools' newly appointed digital agency.  At the same time, the key audiences - teaching staff, support staff, parents and students - feel fully consulted and through participation, excited by the potential of the website to deliver the requirements they highlighted, and passionate about the next steps.

We know we're not unique in this service, but do wholeheartedly believe in the value of user research - the end result will be a website that considers design, usability and functionality from the audience's perspective, thus ensuring lower bounce rates, longer dwell times and higher levels of user engagement.  In short, investment in understanding the audience at the outset will go lengths to achieving ROI in the long-term.

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