Editor’s note: Lianna Willoughby is managing director at research firm Open Mind Strategy, New York. 

Innovative technology in the market research industry is constantly generating new insights but whatever the industry may be gaining, clients insist that in-person focus groups are still an irreplaceable method for conducting research.

I help field both qualitative and quantitative research for clients who produce everything from TV programming to infant formula and time and again they remind me how powerful in-person focus groups can be. After completing projects, many clients mention how a memorable moment from a group changed a mind or validated an opinion that made a real difference for a department or entire organization. Though innovative research is often our focus as market researchers, I’m frequently reminded that good old focus groups generate some of the most insightful research anecdotes that help forge stronger consumer relationships, deepen our understanding of audiences or spark ideas and new thinking.

In addition to the obvious value focus groups can provide the back room, the following five strengths suggest that the in-person focus group will continue to earn its place among productive methodologies.

1. Consumer attention

These days, online focus groups and other forms of digital contact are often what comes to mind because they eliminate the need to leave the office and take travel costs out of the budget. Online forms of contact work but the level of consumer input declines.

What’s key about an in-person focus group is that it provides a space where people can actually, well, focus. In this tech-dominated, multitasking world, moderators get each individual’s full attention (without a phone) for two hours. Online groups are a great way to interact with people remotely but every person in an online group is multitasking. Often, the same is true of client viewers. ...