While I do a lot of qualitative research in Los Angeles (where I’m based), getting a good cross-section of the client’s target takes me to other cities. We pick those cities with care, yet often there are major-market favorites. For example, Chicago gets picked far more often than St. Louis or Kansas City.
A project last week reminded me once again how nice it is to include even smaller markets in the mix. I drove to Bakersfield from Los Angeles, only an hour and a half drive. (Bakersfield is much smaller than Kansas City, with slightly less than 400,000 in the urban area.) The client picked the market as it’s a good market for them. There isn’t a focus group facility in the area and there is no longer a recruiter based in the market. But I got great respondents (using my LA recruiter) who didn’t have prior research experience, who showed up on time (a good incentive strategy worked!), and who really helped to give us the needed insights.
I had a similar experience many years ago when I had a client who loved the Atlanta market, yet after three projects in a row where we had “dud” groups, we both decided to drive up to Chattanooga, TN. The facility was in someone’s house. Again, the respondents were great, candid, and while not as sophisticated, they gave us a perspective that we hadn’t heard before. (And what a lovely city!)
Online qualitative research does afford us the opportunity to include more of these participants in the mix, but a lot of the smaller markets may still experience some problems with Internet connection speeds.
BTW, I’m not recommending that small markets always be included in market selection – that depends on the client and the target. However, if you’re going to three or more markets, you might want to consider one of the smaller gems to add perspective to your exploratory undertaking.