Differentiating between Focus Groups and Interviews

Learning why customers like a specific brand can seem a basic undertaking.  What to ask, how to ask it, and who to ask, however, can become rather complex. From the get-go, researchers must consider the study’s intent. Is the research’s objective to average a customer’s opinion? Or is it in-depth analysis? Will the study take place in the field or a control room? Seemingly similar, focus groups and interviews can offer very different results in the same scenario. All depends on who is being questioned, and when. Before going further let’s quickly explore each research method and its strengths.  

Focus Groups

A group discussion hosted by a moderator, focus groups involve anywhere from four to eight participants. Selection of participants varies a great deal. Studies may base decisions on age group, gender, regional background or any other demographic marker. No matter the selection process, however, the aim of focus groups is to find a consensus.  


Interviews consist of exploring the attitudes and responses of a sole participant. Interview answers, therefore, have the most capability to offer substantive, in-depth answers. The method is also ideal for exploring subject areas the might be deemed too controversial or sensitive for a focus group atmosphere.

Always Remember Pragmatics

While the study’s intent should always guide selection, so too should more pragmatic goals. Obtaining information is the key goal. What if, for instance, only 1 of the 3 world’s experts in a dying cultural practice respond? Though maybe seeking a focus group, any researcher would still be smart to conduct an interview. Aside from incident rates, there are a few other facets to consider.  

  • Variety – Studies that cover a broad demographic will require the same variety in its research. While interviews can be productive in specific cases, focus groups typically allow researchers to gather insight without any detriment to accuracy.   
  • Representation – Access is one of the most critical elements to qualitative research. Depending on response rates and availability, an interview may be the study’s one recourse.
  • Detail – Interviewers have more room for detail, yes,  but focus groups provide a different kind of detail altogether. Depending on the study, researchers may wish to see how a consensus is made or otherwise receive input from a group.    

Assessing Strengths and Similarities

While using different processes and playing to different strengths, focus groups and interviews are still have common procedures. Even more important, the level of detail that a focus group offers depends on the number of participants. The more people, the less specific the detail…at least in terms of personal input. Similarly, an interview may be too confined for properly assessing the rationale behind a customer’s opinion. Thinking of the two methods as a sliding scale, rather than as mutually exclusive, is a solid first step to figuring out how to best implement either type. Roger A. Straus offers a great chart in a post from The Research Playbook.

Focus Groups and Interviews: Faster and More Relevant Online  

Focus groups, interviews, and other qualitative methods are finding new attention with the advent of technological improvements to video streaming. Quite important, since products can now develop and release in the same time span usually allocated to organizing a traditional qualitative study. The effect on interviews and focus groups is profound.

  • Location Participants and researchers can interview from anywhere with an internet location, easing discourse and allowing for a better glimpse into participants everyday lives
  • Accessibility Going through an online route grants research teams access to vastly more participants
  • Equipment – Using the internet drastically reduces the amount of necessary equipment for recording and processing data

Curious to learn more about the benefits of conducting online qualitative research? We’ll gladly walk you through it. 

Consumer centric

Sign Up for our Newsletter