Dial Testing Group vs. Focus Group: How are they Different?

dial testing is like looking through a microscope

I’ve been moderating focus groups and performing dial testing many years. What I have learned is that dial testing puts your message under a microscope in a way that traditional focus groups cannot.

Dial Testing can provide far more value than traditional focus groups. Here’s why…

Imagine you were giving a presentation or wanted to understand an audience’s reaction to your messaging.  By messaging, we mean the words you use to describe your policy position, your sales pitch, a product rebranding or even your CEO’s upcoming keynote presentation. What options would you have?

Focus Groups (after-the-fact feedback)

One option is to conduct traditional focus groups.  In that setting, you would probably show respondents a video of your presentation or public policy messaging, and afterwards, you would then solicit feedback.  You would ask what they liked or disliked about it.  Maybe someone would say something is missing and needs to be added.  Your audience would mostly be reacting to the video’s content in broad-stroke, focusing on overall themes and concepts.  After all, you’re relying on their memory to produce feedback that you would find valuable.  Also, you would have to worry about one or two dominant voices in a focus group influencing others’ perspectives or maybe even silencing other points of view.  You have to ask yourself: Is this really an effective method to gather feedback that you and your organization would find valuable?

Dial Testing Groups (in-the-moment feedback)

Dial testing is a far more comprehensive and valuable tool used to understand an audience’s reaction to your presentation or public policy messaging.  During a dial test, each member of the audience uses a hand-held dial and rates what he or she is hearing on a scale from zero to 100, for how much they agree or disagree, or for how much they like or dislike what they are hearing at that moment.  With the dial technology, we take a reading from every dial every second, and we are able to monitor the group’s average score, second by second, as they provide continuous feedback.  They are scoring the video in real-time with their visceral reactions to what they are hearing in an anonymous and unbiased way.  During the dial test, the moderator is reviewing a printed text of the messaging content, and he or she is writing the group’s average score at the end of each sentence.  The moderator and clients can view the results on a monitor in real-time, and the moderator carefully looks for spikes or dips in the scores, and sometimes, the scores remain flat when he or she was expecting significant movement toward agreement/disagreement or like/dislike.

Dial testing helps identify the strongest and weakest parts of the message

Dial testing provides a competitive advantage for those who utilize this technology because they are able to easily identify the strongest and weakest parts of a presentation.  You don’t need to guess which messaging is working and which isn’t—it’s right in front of you as an easy-to-understand visual.  With dial testing, you can show video clips to respondents after the dial test with their dial results superimposed on the screen if you want to ask why they reacted the way they did during particular parts of the video. This helps them to remember the context of that part of the presentation and it could help them to remember why they reacted so positively or negatively to it.

Dial groups help a moderator fine tune their questioning 

The value of dial testing is that with these results, the moderator is able to focus on a more specific line of questioning that would produce deeper, more valuable insights in follow-up discussions. The visual nature of dial testing is very persuasive to clients who may believe that one of their key arguments is a compelling message—when it really is weak messaging and a problem for their organization.  It is also possible they have a good argument that is not being presented to audiences in an effective way.  Dial testing provides actionable insights while saving clients time and money.

Dial tests provide tangible results

Here’s an analogy: How much more does a scientist know looking through a microscope than with his or her own naked eye?  Dial testing puts your messaging “under the microscope” and shows you how audiences are reacting to it sentence by sentence.  Dial testing provides tangible results for reporting and helps you to determine which messaging you should keep, scrap, or revise.  Clients gain confidence that their original messaging content is receiving the evaluation and analysis it needs and that they will be in a position to communicate their message effectively in the future.

As a follow-up, you may want to check out the Top 10 Ways Dial Testing Can Improve Your Research or download our Essentials of Moment-to-Moment Research Playbook.

We’d love to chat with you about how dial testing can help your next project. Give us a shout.