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Rochester marketing firm opening high-tech focus group facility in Buffalo

A Rochester-based marketing and communications company has expanded its Buffalo footprint by building a high-tech facility on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where it can host focus group sessions for its clients.

Tipping Point Communications next month plans to open its state-of-the-art space in the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center. The facility is set up so that clients can watch and listen to focus groups of 10 to 12 people from an adjoining room or from across the country over an internet connection.

It’s not hard for a marketing company to bring in a panel of consumers to test out products or give reactions to advertising campaigns. But there are only a handful of focus-group facilities in Buffalo comparable to the one Tipping Point is opening, said founder and CEO Michelle Ashby.

“This is a core part of our business,” she said.

The 11-year-old company opened a focus-group space at its first Rochester location eight years ago. As overall business – and focus-group business, specifically – grew, the company moved into a new location and in July 2014 opened a state-of-the-art facility.

Focus group work tripled after the Rochester facility opened, and the venue has hosted 100 focus groups since its opening two years ago.

The company has about 20 employees, with most in Rochester but one each in Buffalo, Syracuse and Cleveland.

The company was interested in opening the Buffalo focus group facility on the Medical Campus because a good amount of its focus group work in Rochester involves healthcare and nonprofit clients, so the Innovation Center is a convenient location if the company wants to bring in physicians, nurse practitioners or patients. It’s also conveniently located near public transportation.

“The location is fantastic,” Ashby said.

Tipping Point brings in between 10 and 12 people at a time who fit the clients’ needs for a focus group, Ashby said. The firm selects them based on their demographics or occupation to fit the target market for a consumer product, for example, or to test out the concept for an advertising campaign. The sessions last 60 or 90 minutes and participants are paid for their time by the clients.

A moderator leads the focus groups. In both rooms, the layout can be changed to allow for a “mock trial” setup, Ashby said, or to allow for product testing by participants at separate tables.

In Rochester and in Buffalo, the rooms are set up so that clients can watch remotely over an internet connection. Cameras and microphones line the room to pick up what the members of the group are saying about and how they are reacting to what they’re reviewing.

This is valuable when out-of-town companies don’t want to fly in a group of executives to monitor the sessions in person, Ashby said.

The facilities in both cities have rooms where clients can watch what’s happening in the sessions.

In Rochester, that room is behind a mirror that lets the clients see in but doesn’t let the focus group participants see out. The mirror isn’t thick enough to always cover up the noise coming from the clients’ observation room, however, so in Buffalo Tipping Point built the room with four full walls to allow client representatives to speak freely while watching the focus groups on monitors, Ashby said.

Few marketing and communications companies have facilities built with this level of technology, she said, and many of them hire Tipping Point to host focus groups for them.

Tipping Point did a test run last week in the Buffalo focus-group room, and will conduct another dry run next week, and plans to open it to clients in mid- to late October.

The company has a freelancer in Buffalo who will handle the focus-group sessions and work closely with the Tipping Point employee in Rochester who oversees that line of business. Tipping Point plans to hire a second and third full-time employee in Buffalo within the next six to eight months.


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