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Pros and cons of focus groups vs. interviews: an in-depth review

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In an earlier article we discussed the major differences between focus groups and face-to-face interviews. Today we’d like to compare both methodologies and discuss the pros and cons of focus groups vs. interviews.

If you are interested in market research in general, and qualitative techniques in particular, don’t miss out our step-by-step guide to market research in which we discuss a thorough approach to all types of marketing questions. The guide can be downloaded for free here.

Table of contents

Advantages of Focus groups

Focus groups are especially suited when you want to confirm your analysis with a wide variety of consumers’ profiles. Focus groups are indeed the best way to exchange viewpoints and discuss disagreements between consumers. This dynamics will not be captured in a face-to-face interview. In addition focus groups may be less expensive than interviews, provided the analytical treatment remains light. Most market research institutes have indeed removed the costly part of the process (i.e. transcriptions and coding). For more information on the budget part, please read our ultimate guide to market research price.

Focus groups vs. interviews : pro's and con's

Advantages of qualitative interviews

An interview will allow you to go much deeper, in particular thanks to a longer speaking time. More insights are likely to be collected, which will be useful for a later quantitative phase. We find it easier to analyze individual interviews than focus groups (especially if you decide to code your interview in a software like Maxqda)

Last but not least, the role of the interviewer is usually less important in interviews than in focus groups; the expected bias, if an interviewing guide has been well prepared, will therefore be lower too.

Speaking times: the differences between focus groups and interviews

One aspect that is often overlooked is the speaking times differences between focus groups and interviews. A focus group usually gather around 8 participants for 2 hours. An individual interview is usually around 45-60 minutes. Divide 2 hours (120 minutes) by 8 and you obtain 15 minutes speaking time per participant in a focus group vs. 45 to 60 minutes in a face-to-face individual interview. This is 3 to 4 times less. That’s why individual interviews are usually seen as an exploratory market research technique, whereas focus groups are more confirmatory by nature.

Disadvantages of focus groups

Whereas focus groups are easy to organize with consumers, they are much more challenging in a B2B context. Have you ever tried to get 8 or 10 busy professionals around one table outside of business hours?

Whatever the setting, the role of the moderator is key to make people speak and interact. The risk to fail is considerably higher than when you follow a well-prepared interview guide.

If you want to learn more about moderator’s bias please read this article. We highlight in particular one academic research by Grønkjær et al. (2011) which state that :

Our analyses identified how interaction can come to a dead-end, including the risk of hierarchical issues. Based on the analyses from this study, the moderator’s ability to pursue the participants’ utterances may be the reason for coming to a dead-end.

Disadvantages of face-to-face interviews

The logistics side of the interviews is complicated, especially if you have to travel meet the interviewees. Writing an interview guide is a process that is also certainly more time-consuming for an individual interview than for a focus group.

Moreover, analyzing all interviews requires skills (and tools) that are neither easy nor cheap to acquire. Finally face-to-face interviews can be especially challenging to organize in a B2B setting (in some cases we even had to refuse B2B market research projects because we thought they were not feasible).

Pros and cons of focus groups vs. interviews: a summary

Advantages Disadvantages
Focus Group
  • diversity of interviewees’ profiles and enrichment of responses
  • cheaper than face-to-face interview in case you perform only a light analysis of answers (for instance, without coding or analysis of correlations)
  • is useful is confirm insights obtained through other qualitative methodologies
  • easy to organize in a B2C setting
  • speaking time of some attendees may be considerably higher than that of others, making their contribution disproportionate
  • lower average speaking time
  • moderator’s bias is hard to prevent
  • difficult to organize in a B2B setting
Face-to-Face interview
  • in-depth analysis thanks to longer speaking time (we consider 75 minutes as being an average interviewing time)
  • higher potential for insights
  • possibility to use coding and perform statistical analysis (correlation matrix)
  • the statistical treatment of results makes it possible to use those robust insights as the fundament of a quantitative survey
  • less bias than with a focus group
  •  more complicated to organize (hence higher organization costs), especially in case of no-show (consider that 20% of interviews will have to be re-scheduled)
  • more complex to interpret (requires a special software like Maxqda, InVivo or Atlas.ti)

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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1 Comment

  1. Really helpful.

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