Qualitative Battle: Focus Groups vs. In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)?

Qualitative research can provide deep insights into a customer's mind. The conversational nature of qualitative research allows a moderator to dig into the findings and continually ask "why" to get the root of a decision. It uncovers motivational factors which influence consumer behavior.

Qualitative Battle: Focus Groups vs. In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)?

How do I decide on which methodology to use?

Several methodologies exist which fall into the qualitative market research realm, but two of the most popular are focus groups and in-depth phone interviews. Each have their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages as a methodology. This blog post today from Drive Research will help you decide on which path is better for your unique project objectives.

Here are 7 questions you should ask your team to help you decide on whether your organization should go the route of focus groups or IDIs.

1. Are your targeted participants scattered across multiple geographies?

Conducting a series of focus groups in one city or region is a lot easier than travelling across the country to hold focus groups in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West in an attempt to obtain broad geographical representation. Even a series of focus groups across a state like New York could prove to be burdensome on both budget and timeline. The general sense is, if you want to target participants across a wide range of geographies in a qualitative fashion, in-depth interviews (IDIs) are your better choice.

Concerned about how much focus groups cost? Consider these variables in your budget.

2. Do you have to show visuals?

This one is straight-forward. If you are testing logos, visuals, or marketing materials it's much easier to moderate a session in-person using focus groups. You'll witness visual cues and have the ability to follow-up. Something that will be lost via the telephone. IDIs can utilize screen sharing tools to share visuals but it adds another layer of complexity and onus on the participant.

Another option to consider here is online focus groups or bulletin boards. Participants for these groups can be recruited globally and the system allows you to share visuals and respond to participant feedback and comments live. Bulletin boards and online qualitative are one of the fastest growing methodologies in market research according to the Quirks Corporate Research Report.

3. Do the targeted participants have a vested interest in your organization?

It's much easier to recruit and interview participants over the phone offering a fair honorarium. The commitment to spend 20 minutes with a moderator on a pre-scheduled call is a lot less of an obligation than driving to a focus group facility, spending 2 hours in a group with strangers, and driving back to home or work. The time commitment is much more intense for the latter which often requires higher incentives.

If you are conducting qualitative research with non-customers or participants who have no strong brand affinity to your organization or its products, don't completely shy away from trying to recruit for focus groups, but strongly consider telephone IDIs. If focus groups are a must, know you'll likely struggle with recruiting and have to budget more for rewards.

4. How deep do you need to dive?

The math here is simple. If your focus groups sit 12 people per session and each session lasts 2 hours each, this totals an average of 10 minutes of speaking time per person. It also totals 120 minutes of feedback per scheduled session. When compared with in-depth interviews (IDIs) where an interviewer spends 20 minutes per person over the phone. If 10 interviews are conducted that is 200 minutes of feedback. It becomes clear which methodology offers a greater amount of qualitative data in terms of volume.

If your IDIs involve particular experts or stakeholders, it may make more sense to share 20+ minutes with them each by phone rather than having them in a focus group. However, group dynamics and shared conversation (outside of 1-on-1 discussions) can lend new insights to research so the choice between the two methodologies often comes down to preference on this point. Some may argue the banter back and forth between participants creates dialogue that is not possible to replicate in a 1-on-1 interview.

5. How open will participants be with feedback?

If there is any reason to think participants may not share intel or feedback with the group as a whole, you should strongly consider 1-on-1 phone interviews. The individual phone interviews create a private, controlled and confidential setting for a participant. This is often a concern for B2B focus groups where business owners or decision-makers may be sitting in a group with competitors. They will most likely feel uncomfortable sharing details of choices, strategy, or motivations. However, in a 1-on-1 setting knowing they are speaking directly to a moderator, they will be more likely to share if rapport can be built quickly.

For the large part, respondents who have never participated in market research previously will be immediately skeptical of a focus group. On top of this, when they enter a room with other B2B stakeholders, they may become increasingly weary of how the information will be used and who it will be shared with. This creates additional work on the moderator's end to tweeze-out information.

6. How quickly do you need results?

This is often not an issue with either methodology you choose. The qualitative research project can be scaled to ensure it meets any deadline you impose. If you need a report in 6 weeks, the number of focus groups and number of IDIs can be adjusted in order to meet the deadline. The recruitment timeframe and staffing can be accelerated as needed. Timeline should not impact one choice of methodology over another.

7. How much budget does your organization have?

Similar to timeline, both methodologies can be scaled accordingly. However, it is much easier to fit a telephone in-depth interview project within budget than focus groups. Why? With telephone IDIs you don't need an expensive facility with a one-way mirror. There are no travel costs associated with the groups. Honorariums are often equal or less than what is paid for in-person focus groups. You also don't have to pay for video recordings. All factors to think about if budget is a true concern.

As far as market research is concerned, either of these methodologies would provide value and insights for your organization. The key point is choosing one rather than doing nothing at all. Both offer unique benefits but we largely favor in-depth interviews (IDIs) over focus groups for a variety of reasons explained above. This is not to say focus groups are not recommended in certain situations, but all things being equal, IDIs provide the best qualitative value in our opinion.

Here is your Ultimate Guide and 13-Step Process of an In-Depth Interview Market Research Study.

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