What Administrators Should Know About the Group Interview

George J. Szybillo, New York University
[ to cite ]:
George J. Szybillo (1976) ,"What Administrators Should Know About the Group Interview", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 03, eds. Beverlee B. Anderson, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 447-448.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1976      Pages 447-448

WHAT ADMINISTRATORS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE GROUP INTERVIEW

George J. Szybillo, New York University

Administrative responsibilities are often cited as including problem definition and specification of how information relevant to the problem can be acquired. Regardless of umbilical association (e.g. consumer marketing, industrial manufacturing, government, non-profit organization), administrators have similar needs with respect to these responsibilities. The group interview -- the direct verbal interviewing of respondents in groups rather than individually -- is a research technique with implications for each of these responsibilities. Group interviews highlight what factors are associated with problems and often suggest strategies for how information on these factors can be collected. Group interviews are descriptive, focusing on words rather than numbers. They describe the what and why of a problem with little concern for how many or how much. Emphasis is placed on the quality of responses rather than the quantity of responses. How does this principal characteristic of the group interview relate to the functions for which group interviews are used? What procedural steps in group interviewing should the administrator be aware of? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this research technique?

FUNCTIONS

There are at least three general functions which the group interview may serve individually or collectively. Goldman (1975) suggests that the qualitative aspect of group interviews may address consulting, creative or research needs. His categorization suggests that the qualitative aspect of group interviews may address a multiplicity of needs. His categorization suggests that group interviews do not necessarily have to serve the purpose of further research.

Administrators are often confronted with problems with which they are unfamiliar. In these situations the administrator's principal objective may be to learn about the problem. For example, consider the product manager in a package goods firm with responsibility for rice products who is to be promoted to group product manager for staple products. However, the firm presently has no staple products other than rice. Our manager needs an understanding of what factors are perceived as assets and liabilities of present and, perhaps, potential staple products. Where a thorough orientation to a new area of inquiry is the administrator's principal objective, group interviews can be said to serve a consulting function (Goldman, 1975).

Group interviews can also serve a creative function. Holtzman (1975) illustrates that copywriters often need guidance on not only what to say in an advertisement, but how to say it. Early quantitative research for the women's shaver market stressed the importance of functional characteristics of electric shavers (e.g. handling, closeness of shave, etc.). Yet the advertisements stressing these features in conjunction with femininity and daintiness did not stimulate the market for years. Group interviews for Remington indicated that a large part of the women's shaver market wanted not only functional features, but some resemblance to the male counterpart. Emphasis was changed in the message context from femaleness to maleness and sales increased.

Group interviews can also serve to directly and indirectly guide quantitative research (Johnson, 1975; Dupont, 1975). In this function they can: 1) suggest or reconfirm hypotheses to test, 2) provide language for question structure which is most likely to be familiar to respondents, and 3) suggest advantages and disadvantages associated with other data collection methods. For example, Dupont (1975) found that approximately 1,000 recent new car buyers had to be contacted by phone to recruit 20 group respondents of Volvo considerers. Phone or personal interviews were therefore judged to be beyond the cost Volvo had anticipated for the quantitative phase of the study and direct mail was used.

PROCEDURES

Preparation

Administrators should be involved in defining the problem to the group interviewer or moderator. This is important for the moderator not only interacts with respondents, but interacts with them for a purpose. Mutual understanding between moderator and administrator clarifies, why the study is to be done, what specific areas are to be covered, how the results are to be used, and how and to who the results will be presented (Payne, 1975). After defining what questions are to be addressed a guideline is frequently developed to place questions in a logical sequence and to provide a frame of reference for how both the administrator and moderator believe the group should proceed.

An administrator's involvement with the project should not stop at guideline preparation. He must specify who he wants in the group and who he does not want in the group. Considering the first point, a baby food manufacturer once used the description "mothers with young children" and found that the recruiter had assembled his group respondents from a list of Leche League members. These women breast feed their babies and were not respondents the manufacturer had hoped to address. This example illustrates that recruiters often use sources other than telephone or door to door recruiting. Such variability in recruiting practices leads to variability in recruiting costs. Lists of respondents also may lead to groups composed of "professional respondents'' and "friends". Neither of these types of groups may be acceptable to the administrator. Further exclusions could include marketing research, advertising agency, and competitor or corporation personnel.

Group size and number of groups should be of concern to the administrator. Most facilities and moderators seem to accommodate groups of seven to ten respondents (Payne, 1975; Wells, 1975). It is a good idea to over-recruit for groups. At any time respondent concerns (e.g. little Johnny has a runny nose) can become more important to the respondent than an administrator's research. The number of group interviews varies depending on the scope of the study. Generally, analyses are performed on two to four group interviews. Studies which demand analysis for different groups determined by a number of factors (e.g. age, income, marital status, etc.) necessarily involve more groups.

Moderation

There are different interviewing styles for the moderation of groups. Aspects of nondirective interviewing have been detailed elsewhere (Goldman, 1963). Both Axelrod (1975) and Wells (1975) have discussed aspects of the directive style. Elements in a directive oriented introduction may include: overview of where the discussion will go, instructions on participation, stress of importance of reactions as participants, and a request for general background information on participants. Each of these elements deserves further comment.

By presenting an overview of the discussion outline the moderator gives the participants an idea of the scope of the discussion and the boundaries associated with the discussion (Wells, 1975). Instructions requesting that respondents speak up highlights the tape recording of the session. This can be explained by indicating that the respondents' responses will remain anonymous, and that the tape is used only to facilitate later analysis. It also is easy to explain in this context that while spontaneous reactions are appreciated, multiple conversations within the group, at any one time, will mitigate the usefulness of the tape. Stress on participant reactions, as participants, informs the respondents that their own reactions are sought; not their interpretation of the problem as they would adopt the role of a manager or advertising executive. Request for general background information from the respondents enables them to speak first on a subject they should know well; themselves. It also allows them to warm up to the moderation process and gives them an idea of how the moderator may lead the discussion.

Axelrod (1975) notes that the moderator should set: 1) a tone that impels respondents into the discussion, and 2) a pace that allows covering the specific areas of research interest. Emphasis should he placed on probes which simulate an interplay of thought rather than an attack (Axelrod, 1975). Administrators may argue for the same conclusion; "silent" research helps no one.

Respondents are generally informed of the duration of the interview (e.g., 2 hours) prior to participating. Therefore, to allay rushed answers, the interviewer must pace the session so that areas of interest get appropriate "air time". In the most desirable type of interview, the moderator also balances "air time" for respondents. This means that the moderator should be capable of eliciting responses from reticent group members and thwarting dominance of discussion by the more aggressive group members. The first situation may be alleviated by such probes as "What about someone else?" :What do the rest of you think on that topic?" The second situation may be alleviated by the same probes but tactics such as breaking the respondent's train of thought or nonverbal presentations (e.g., moderator boredom, avoid eye contact) may be necessary.

Analyses and Report Preparation

Analyses of group interviews and report preparation can range from a one paragraph account of what prevalent verbalizations occurred in the groups to a multi-page report describing and interpreting multiple levels of group responses including verbalizations. Where the administrator has had intensive participation in the study and when respondent reactions appear to be uniform, a report beyond the obvious may not be desirable. On the other hand, where administrator participation has been low, respondent reactions diversified, and organization of previous research findings poor, an extensive, integrated and interpretive report may be called for (Templeton, 1975). Extensive reports generally include discussion of what was said, how it was said and description of respondent reactions when it was said. It becomes readily apparent at the analysis stage that if similar research topics were not discussed across groups, few comparative statements can be directly made. A moderator with good topic area control of "air time" is greatly appreciated here.

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

As with most things we can discern good and bad characteristics. The following can be considered disadvantages and advantages associated with group interviewing. Among the disadvantages are: 1) the findings of group interviews are often not projectable, in a statistical sense, to the population from which they were recruited due to limited number of participants and non-random processes associated with recruitment; 2) it provides less detailed information on a person than the individual interview; and 3) group respondents may overly favor concepts or objects presented to them if they perceive them as being associated with a friendly moderator.

Among the advantages are: 1) group interviews can be conducted very quickly and at relatively low cost; 2) group interviews provide the opportunity for the research professional and administrator to directly observe respondent reactions to the problem; 3) group interviews are more flexible than many other research techniques; 4) group interviews expose the contingencies on behavior or the dynamics of decision-making; 5) group interviews often foster the interchange of stimulating ideas; and 6) group interviews provide information to an administrator in a form that they can understand and appreciate. Rather than a basket of percentages and unexplained tables, typical of many survey reports, the group interview report provides the administrator with the reality of how respondents view hi-! problem in their own words.

REFERENCES

Axelrod, Myril D., "The Dynamics of the Group Interview," in Beverlee Anderson (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, 3(1976).

Dupont, Thomas D., "The Exploratory Group Interview in Consumer Research: A Case Example", in Beverlee Anderson (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, 3 (1976).

Goldman, Alfred E., "The Group Depth Interview," Journal of Marketing, 26 (1963), 61-68.

Goldman, Alfred E., "Development and Application of the Group Interview," in Beverlee Anderson (ed.) Advances in Consumer Research, 3(1976).

Holtzman, Eleanor, "Love, Sex and Intent to Buy," in Beverlee Anderson (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, 3(1976).

Johnson, Deborah, "The Shopping Crisis: the Focus Group Method as a Way to Examine Changing Trends," in Beverlee Anderson (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, 3(1976).

Payne, Melanie S., "Preparing for Group Interviews," in Beverlee Anderson (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, 3(1976).

Templeton, Jane, "Presearch as Giraffe: An Identity Crisis," in Beverlee Anderson (ed.), Advances in Consumer Research, 3(1976).

Wells, William D., "Group Interviewing," in Robert Ferber (ed.), Handbook of Marketing Research, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, (1974).

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