Focus Groups vs. Online Surveys: How to Choose a Market Research Methodology

Market research is one of the most important things a company can invest in as part of its business, marketing, and sales strategy.

It can help an organization begin to fully understand its competition, market trends, as well as consumers’ wants, needs, and purchasing behaviors.

While conducting market research is extremely beneficial, it can be challenging to choose what type of methodology best meets a company's unique goals and objectives.

For instance, focus groups are a popular qualitative market research method, while online surveys are a great quantitative methodology. 

So how do you know which method is best for your company’s research needs? Our market research company shares the pros and cons of focus groups vs. online surveys to help guide your decision.

online surveys vs focus groups


Focus Groups: What are they?

A focus group is when a selected gathering of people participate in a discussion together.

Typically, the objectives are to learn about perceptions of a particular product, company, or idea.

Focus groups are led by a moderator who asks questions to participants and often encourages discussion between the participants.

Focus groups are not created to bring the participant group to a consensus or decision. The goal of focus groups is to identify thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that can help a company strategize.

This type of market research can be conducted in-person at a focus group facility, or online via video conferencing technology such as Zoom.

Online focus groups are growing in popularity because they allow companies to reach customers from across the United States without having to host several different group discussions in each part of the country.

Recommended Reading: Traditional Focus Groups or Online Focus Groups: The Choice is Yours


Online Surveys: What are they?

Online surveys are a popular method for collecting data about the general population or a specific demographic.

Surveys simply are a series of questions individuals answer, whose results can be collected and analyzed. Data collected from surveys can be generalized and expanded to represent a larger target audience.

Online surveys include two key features:

  1. Sampling
  2. Questionnaires

Sampling is used when a specific subgroup of the target demographic is selected and given a survey filled with questions.

For example, a produce company wants to survey grocery shoppers who purchase apples at least two times a month.

Questionnaires are the actual survey draft or questions asked in the research.

Looking for survey tips? Here at the top 5 market research survey tips.


The Pros of Focus Groups

Focus groups are a great way to collect information and data for a number of reasons.

Due to their conversational nature, focus groups allow participants to interact and discuss topics with each other during the discussion (which can lead to insightful comparisons).

The face-to-face interaction fosters the consideration of ideas and perspectives of the other participants.

This is beneficial because participants can really fine-tune their thoughts, making data more accurate for the company to use well.

Qualitative data can be more difficult to compartmentalize than quantitative data might be, but seeing into the minds of the consumer can be extremely valuable.

Since focus groups are designed to be flexible, companies are able to capitalize on the ability of the moderator to ask pointed follow-up questions and converse with participants about topics of interest.


The Pros of Online Surveys

Survey research has many advantages.

Two of the most important benefits include:

  1. Cost-effectiveness. Online surveys are perhaps the most cost-effective market research methodology. With most, if not, all of the process being conducted online it helps reduce a lot of the project management and extra fees associated with other qualitative studies.
  2. Efficiency. In some cases, online surveys can be completed in 24-48 hours. It is also important to note you are not sacrificing quality for how quickly fieldwork is conducted.

Additionally, survey sampling allows companies to accurately estimate characteristics of a larger population.

For large or widely dispersed populations, this is a huge benefit and makes the use of survey research sensible.

Check out a recently completed online survey about higher education project by Drive Research.


Focus Groups vs. Online Surveys: Which is better?

The short answer is, it depends on your objectives. 

The long answer...

Take a look at key components of your study. 

  • What is your budget?
  • What type of feedback are you looking for?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How many people do you want to participate in your research?

If you are looking for fast, less expensive data from hundreds of respondents, online surveys are the choice for you.

Focus groups require a lot of set-up time, compensating a moderator, booking a focus group facility, and compensating participants.

However, surveys can be executed quickly and sent out through email and/or shared online, keeping costs down.

If you are looking for in-depth feedback in an intimate setting where moderators can ask for more detail, then focus groups are for you. While a focus group will likely never be as low-cost as online surveys, there are ways to cut costs.

Reach out to a market research company, like Drive Research, to learn what methodology they'd recommend within your budget.


Contact Our Full-Service Market Research Company

Drive Research is a national market research firm offering a wide range of marketing research services.

Our market research team has experience conducting focus groups and online surveys to help companies answer questions that influence decision-making and strategy.

When done correctly, market research will result in a greater return on investment (ROI).

Questions about how Drive Research can help? Talk to our team today.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at info@driveresearch.com
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

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