As companies try to stand out from the competition, they want to know the reasons why customers feel and behave the way they do when making a purchasing decision. To gain insight into the market and customers, organizations often conduct research.

Numerous books are available on the topics related to research. There are various survey and research methods. Some of the most common are in-depth interviews, focus groups, and online survey. Each has its purpose and an appropriate time. 

In our work for our customers, we employ one or a combination of three common methods: in-depth telephone interviews, written surveys (online or in person), and focus groups (in person or panels).  Regardless of the method your instrument is critical and its imperative your results are actionable.

The Pros and Cons of Focus Groups vs In-depth Interviews

Both in-depth interviews (IDIs) and Focus Groups have their value. Both can be conducted in person or remotely. It is common for organizations to use a combination of both of these when doing research. Both can be used as a predecessor to quantitative research and be valuable in the design of the quantitative research questionnaire. 

Each of these techniques provide an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with people who have some first hand experience with the subject in question. The individuals who participate in this process are collaborating with you on solving a problem so they can help us make a product better, find out how and why they buy, and gather new ideas.

So what’s the difference other than in one instance you’re engaged 1:1 and in the other there’s a group?

Focus groups because they involve group dynamics allow for the piggy backing of ideas. This can be very valuable when you want to:

  • explore a new category and the underlying drivers of behavior
  • develop theories that can then be tested quantitatively
  • have a forum for finding useful ideas
  • enable a way to physically show a new product or ad concept and get visceral reactions and
  • offer an opportunity to probe issues and find ideas for strategies

The typical focus group format includes a moderator leading a one-and-a-half to two hour long discussion at a research facility with a one-way mirror involving eight to 10 participants. Two specific benefits of focus groups are they can be easily observed providing first hand experience and can be more efficient than other qualitative methods.

In-depth interviews (IDIs) whether in person or by phone or some other remote means are another common qualitative research technique.  IDIs  allow for

  • greater participation for each respondent
  • can be more appropriate for sensitive topics, enable researches to avoid group bias (a dominant problem with focus groups)
  • can be better for reaching executive-level respondents who don’t have the time or desire to participate in a group
  • connecting with geographically dispersed targets and
  • can be much less expensive than focus groups since they do not require a facility
Pros and Cons for Research methods

There are pros and cons to each research method.

Does it matter whether you conduct your IDIs in person, online or by phone?

A Pew Research Center conducted an experiment to see if the survey method by which someone was surveyed has an effect on responses. The study found that it was fairly common to see differences in responses between those who took the survey with an interviewer by phone and those who took the survey on their own (self-administered) online, but typically the differences were not large. There was a mean difference of 5.5 percentage points and a median difference of 5 points across the 60 questions. Which approach is best for you?

The Pros and Cons of Online vs. Telephone Survey Methods

Both telephone and online methods serve as good approaches to conducting research. Here’s a quick recap of the pros and cons.  

Three Primary Online Survey Advantages

  • Cost. No costs for telephone charges, interviewer time, supervisory or quality control.
  • Time. No time zone constraints or limitations.
  • The ability to use images, screen shots, even streaming video.

Three Primary Telephone Survey Advantages

  • Reliability. Online it is hard to ensure the person taking the survey is the person you want to take it
  • Demographic distributions. Certain demographics distributions can be different in an online study.
  • Control. Making the study mirror your target population is out of your control with online research.

While you can do branching with many of today’s online survey tools, in-depth interviews done by phone or in person enable the interviewer to probe.  This kind of context and color provides additional insights often needed to make strategic decisions.  

Regardless of approach the design of your instrument and your sampling are crucial. 

There is a science to quality research.  If your resources are limited and you won’t have the option of “do over”   take advantage of experts





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