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When To Use Focus Groups vs Interviews

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Do you have a new idea for a product, service, or even a startup? I can still remember when I first thought of Stan’s Gigs like it was yesterday.

It was a rough time in my life. The only thing that I looked forward to was the samples that I got from the mail. It wasn’t a big deal, but it still brought me much joy. It was a spark.

This got me thinking: do other people feel the same way? More importantly, how can I help them experience the same kind of uplifting feeling and convenience?

After all, that’s what ideas should do, right? They should be of service to humanity.

As a regular participant of focus groups already, it was only natural that my first thought was to hold an informal focus group session with fellow samplers within the community. I also figured that an interview with a more experienced website owner would prove insightful.

Thus, here lies the question: which research option should I go for? Today, we’ll determine when to use focus groups vs interviews.

I’ll also cover their pros and cons and give you tips on how to perform these market research techniques on your own. Let’s get started!

What Is a Focus Group Discussion?

In a nutshell, a focus group discussion (or FGD) is a research technique involving a conversation between a group of participants and a facilitator. Doing so will allow the researcher to get a collective overview of a specific topic.

Its best strength lies in giving you an immediate idea of how a group of people will react to something. Keep in mind, though, that the keyword here is “overview”. That’s because an FGD offers more quantity over quality when it comes to the information it provides.

There’s also an inherent risk of inaccuracy. You see, people behave differently as a group. Most of us have this gnawing need to impress people, along with a fear of disappointing them.

Fortunately, there are ways to improve the quality of results you get from your focus group sessions, including:

  • Improve the Quality of Your Participants

First, you should make sure your chosen participants are ideal candidates for the group or demographic that you want them to represent.

  • Hire a Skilled Facilitator

Next, you need someone highly skilled in non-biased communication to moderate your session. This will minimize influencing the opinions of your participants.

  • Keep the Participants To a Manageable Number

Based on my personal experience, the sweet spot ranges from five to eight participants at a time. Any more than that will make it more difficult for your facilitator to manage the discussion. 

Pros:

  • Provides an immediate overview of collective opinion
  • Offers information from different perspectives

Cons:

  • Higher risk of inaccuracy
  • Can be costly due to the number of people involved

What Is an Interview?

An interview is a research technique involving a conversation between two parties: the interviewer and the interviewee. The interviewer’s role is to ask strategic questions, while an interviewee is expected to answer them truthfully and to the best of his ability.

Don’t get me wrong. FGDs, when conducted properly, can uncover some really impressive ideas. After all, you have a diverse group of people pouring through an idea.

However, there are numerous benefits of interviewing an expert as well. The best part about it?

That is the opportunity to get a participant’s attention all to yourself and your idea. It usually results in more in-depth information than what you can expect getting from any FGD participant.

I’ve noticed that the amount and quality of information you’ll get from an interview highly relies on the interviewer’s skill. That’s because it is easier to stumble upon really good ideas when you have a group of people mulling over them.

Thus, allow me to share with you some tips on how to maximize an interview session further:

  • Don’t Go Into Your Interview Blindly

Prepare for the session ahead of time by trying your best to learn more about your interviewee.

Are there any topics that they would feel uncomfortable discussing? What is their background?

From which perspective are they coming from? Finally, what do you seek to accomplish in this interview?

I personally find it helpful to compose my interview questions around my goal. It doesn’t just help me focus on the topic at hand, but it also makes it easier for me to manage the conversation. That said, you don’t want to be overly manipulative as well.

  • Don’t Let Your Planned Questions Hold You Back

Don’t be afraid to allow your conversation to branch out. The best ideas can sometimes come from the most unusual places.

There might be invaluable life lessons lurking within the weirdest past experiences. You’ll never really know when you’re brain-picking the mind of an expert. However, please don’t interpret this as a go-signal to allow your interview to go off the map.

It’s complicated; I know. In the end, it will all boil down to your instincts.

Will this story lead you closer to an answer? Or will it completely derail your conversation?

It is your job as an interviewer and researcher to find the thin thread dividing the strategic navigation and getting lost in the wild.

  • Pay Really Close Attention

Don’t just focus on what you hear. In fact, there are also a lot of ideas lying beyond words.

What has not been said? Did you notice the interviewee avoiding a particular part of the conversation? Why?

You also want to pay attention to your interviewee’s facial expressions and body language. These are all forms of communication that mustn’t be ignored.

Pros:

  • Provides more in-depth information
  • Easier and more cost-effective to conduct

Con:

  • Ideas gathered will lack diversity

When To Use Focus Groups vs Interviews

Anyway, now that we have a better understanding of focus groups and interviews, the next challenge is to determine the research technique that’s more suitable for your needs and preferences.

Aside from the points we have mentioned above, below are other factors that you might want to consider as you’re figuring out when to use focus groups vs interviews.

Budget

First of all, consider your budget. As I’ve said, focus groups can be quite costly due to the number of people involved. I’m not just referring to your participants. 

You should account for your focus group team as well. You’ll need to hire a facilitator, recorder, recruiter, and more lest you want to take on the challenge of fulfilling every role and responsibility involved in conducting FGDs.

More people also translates to a bigger venue and increased refreshments. After all, you don’t want your participants to be uncomfortable during the session since it can significantly impact the quality of their answers. In the end, it is usually less expensive to conduct interviews over FGDs.

Goal

Next, what is your goal? Can it be accomplished by interviewing a couple of people? Or will it be better for you to seek the opinions of a group instead?

For instance, suppose you are planning to make some changes to your website. It would be the smarter option just to consult with an expert if you want to tweak your website’s current design.

On the other hand, you might want to conduct a focus group of your loyal online audience if you’re planning to make drastic changes to its user experience instead.

Time

Finally, organizing a focus group session can take a lot of time. There are many processes involved, from drafting survey questions up to analyzing the data collected to write a report.

If you don’t have a lot of time or patience to accommodate this complex procedure, then you might be better off conducting an interview in its place.

Final Thoughts

Going back to the Stan’s Gigs origin story, I have chosen to perform both market research techniques instead. I talked to a close friend about his transition from offline to online employment. What was it like to live off the internet?

Meanwhile, I also held a focus group session with fellow samplers to get an idea of the types of samples they enjoy receiving, their sources of sampling opportunities, and their opinions on how sampling can be further improved.

But that’s just me. How about you? Which technique do you think would better accomplish your goals? Good luck!

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