Last update: March 2020.
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.
Feel free to watch the video below (undertitled in English) where our founder, Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab, sums the differences, advantages and inconvenients of focus groups vs. qualitative interviews.
Table of contents
- Advantages of focus groups
- Advantages of qualitative interviews
- Disadvantages of focus groups
- Disadvantages of qualitative interviews
- Pros and cons of focus groups vs. interviews : an overview
- How to choose?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
It may seem challenging to choose between individual interviews and focus groups. Qualitative interviews are best suited if you want to gather specific experiences and opinions that you can explore in more depth with your interviewer. This format allows respondents to feel free to confide in you without judging their answers (feeling of trust and closeness to the interviewer) and avoids bias.
Focus groups will be of particular interest to challenge an idea to different experts, consumers or prospects, on the concept of a brainstorming session. In particular, it will be interesting to invite people with complementary experiences to identify the crucial points you will need to work on in the future.Tags: market research methods