The DISCUS advantage
DISCUS has been used in several real-world situations, allowing the developers to test their theories and further refine their prototype. In the fullest DISCUS experiment to date, the team and researchers from the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living (the second largest marketing and publicity firm in Japan ) conducted a large-scale marketing survey at the University of Illinois campus.
TRECC also assisted during this phase of the project. “I was able to brainstorm with the Hakuhodo scientists and the DISCUS team,” Dewan says. “And I was able to suggest further contacts at the University who could help answer some of their questions and needs.”
Hakuhodo helps its clients discover emerging markets and develop new products. If a client is interested in identifying what new cell phone features will be popular with consumers, for example, Hakuhodo might mine existing data on cell phones, develop a scenario to evaluate (such as, Would consumers like cell phones with built-in cameras?), and test the scenario with focus groups, who provide their feedback on the scenario.
A traditional focus group gathers participants and moderators in one location and takes several days. Hakuhodo often uses Day 1 to give the focus group information and a scenario, then uses Day 2 for guided discussion, and Day 3 to synthesize the suggestions from the group.
This time, Hakuhodo used DISCUS to streamline their collaboration, data mining, focus group brainstorming, and scenario testing.
Hakuhodo first provided the DISCUS team with a database of nearly one million records, representing information gathered from questionnaires completed by people in New York , Los Angeles , and Chicago . This data was mined using the D2K component of DISCUS in order to determine what characteristics the team should look for in focus group participants (a detailed explanation on these models can be found online. This data mining was guided by a Hakuhodo’s model of how ideas and new products spread in Japanese society (young women are typically the first to latch onto new products and to influence others to purchase them). Such diffusion models have been widely studied by Japanese researchers at Hakuhodo, providing a solid background for the group dynamics.
Then the DISCUS team conducted a similar survey on the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois . From the survey respondents they were able to select the individuals with the desired characteristics to participate in the focus groups. The goal was to have a combination of technology innovators, who are power users of gizmos; early adopters; and late adopters. Because college students tend to be heavy users of technology, they found more participants from the first two classifications.
“On this campus, it’s difficult to find someone who never uses email,” Xavier laughs.
One the team had the desired mix, the participants were brought to IlliGAL, where they used DISCUS on desktop computers to answer questions and provide feedback. To start the online discussion, the moderator would post a question, such as “What do you like about your current cell phone?” The focus group participants would conduct an online discussion on that topic for about an hour, take a break, and then would return to repeat the procedure with a new question.
During the participants’ break, the archived text of the first discussion could be analyzed using DISCUS. Repeated phrases and trends could be detected, correlations could be made, and the team could actually use the information from the first session to formulate a new question or scenario to put to the focus group after the break. When they returned to their computers, the participants might be asked “What features would you like to see on a cell phone in the future?” or asked to evaluate and rate specific scenarios.
Llorà points out that this flexibility also enables DISCUS users to employ the results on one focus group in creating scenarios for a second group. A focus group of innovators, for example, could precede a group of early adopters, which could in turn be followed by a group of late adopters.
“We can create a path of how information flows between groups,” he says.
Group moderators were also able to see when an online discussion was repeating the discussion of a previous group. When that happens, the DISCUS moderators could steer the discussion in a new direction, generating more original input.
Over three days, the team worked with 10 focus groups, spending about four hours on each focus group. That’s a dramatically faster turnaround time than the traditional method, which takes several days for each focus group.
Speed isn’t the only advantage DISCUS provides. Because all of the online discussions are archived, DISCUS users can easily return to the data for analysis, mining the communication for common and relevant features or interesting crossover of concepts. This information can then be used in a KeyGraph to pinpoint an emerging need or market. A traditional focus group could be recorded, but the data in video recordings can’t currently be easily mined or analyzed.
DISCUS also reduces the number of moderators needed to conduct a focus group. A typical focus group that gathers all of the participants in a room for a discussion requires almost as many moderators as participants. In the DISCUS test, however, each group of five or six participants needed only one or two moderators. Using DISCUS, the same number of personnel could conduct more focus groups or larger focus groups, thereby generating more reliable alternatives.