Editor’s note: Lon Zimmerman is a retired research practitioner, formerly of Zimmerman Marketing Research.

I retired too early (2018). This became apparent to me while reading “How the pandemic has changed digital qual,” an article written by Edward Appleton and Katharina Ladikas and published in the March/April 2022 issue of Quirk’s magazine, which discusses the challenges of conducting traditional face-to-face focus groups and individual in-depth interviews (IDIs) during a pandemic. 

For almost 30 years, the bulk of my qualitative work was done using the telephone. Building on what George Silverman, credited as being the godfather of telephone focus groups (TFGs), taught and the way that technique evolved over the years, I would have been in a perfect position to continue hearing the voice of the marketplace.

In early days of TFGs, we had eight to 10 participants on a telephone conference call and we posed questions or propositions and elicited responses. Moderators encouraged participants to exchange views with one another and question what was being said, just as if we were sitting around a table talking together. 

In the process, we learned that not seeing one another face to face allowed folks to speak straight to the point and not pontificate or try to impress one another – very little verbal or visual intimidation. 

Given the positive atmosphere created by the personal anonymity of TFGs, I avoided using the “Zoom” techniques of today even when technology made it possible. I found a benefit from people not seeing one another and/or the moderator. They could concentrate on the discussion and not on their fellow participants.

Like Appleton and Ladikas mentioned in their article, our groups were geographically diverse – often 8 to 10 folks from 8 to 10 different states. I was even able to conduct groups in Europe and Australia right from my own home. And we were able to reach r...