Focus group or on-location interviews – which is right for your consumer insights project?

 In Methods, Thought

Everyone has a basic understanding of what a focus group is. It’s a moderated discussion of a topic with multiple members of a targeted demographic sitting around a table responding to questions or reacting to concepts. Often the client is sitting “behind the glass” – a one-way mirror separating the moderator and participants from the clients who want to observe the session in real time.

In-home, in-office and on-location interviews, while newer, also have an established understanding in the popular psyche. Even if you’ve never participated in one, you probably know someone who has or you’ve witnessed someone interviewing a customer in a more natural setting like a store or the office.

Knowing which approach is right for you depends on what you’re trying to learn. Each of these modes of qualitative inquiry has unique strengths. We’ve outlined some below to help you understand why the differences matter to you and the success of your research project.

Focus groups

Let’s face it, focus groups are the backbone of any qualitative research program. They allow you to collect a number of perspectives in a short amount of time. We typically limit our groups to six participants to encourage a robust dialog, unlike the groups you see on TV where a moderator asks his group of twenty for their feedback (trust us, with numbers like that, you’ll never get the in-depth understandings you’re looking for!)

Focus groups are ideal for collecting feedback on current topics, advertising concepts, and high-level product concepts because the discussion that ensues allows researchers and clients to take a quick pulse of the target demographic. When recruited accurately for the target demographic, they answer questions like “what do consumers think of X?” and “How will voters respond to Y?”

Here are the top five advantages of focus group research:

  1. Focus groups engage a large number of research participants
  2. Focus groups allow researchers to conduct research and develop findings more quickly and the client to adjust messages and products more quickly
  3. Focus groups allow the client team to observe in real time
  4. Most cities have focus group facilities, making multi-region research feasible
  5. These focus group facilities employ recruiters that can help us really pinpoint your target demographic and fill the room with them

On-location interviews

Rooted in the anthropological tradition of ethnography, the on-location in-depth interview, or IDI, brings the research team to the places where consumers usually engage your products. A typical research project will include visits with approximately five members of each consumer segment. As participants are interviewed, they show the team how they use your products or others’ related products.

On-location IDI’s are ideal for product and service innovation projects where we need to understand and map out processes, workflows and user experiences. Where a focus group can answer “What do you think about X?” the on-location IDI will answer “How do you do X and why do you do it that way?”

Here are the top five advantages of on-location IDI’s:

  1. Because interviews are solo (or with a couple at most), there’s greater time to dive into experiences and gain deeper understandings – further, we can develop findings as the research evolves because you get to step up to the inquiry plate multiple times
  2. Difficult personalities are easier to manage – it’s just a matter of adjusting the interview to their style
  3. We get to see people engaging with products in their true use environments – it’s a waste of your time and money to do focus groups on home storage solutions when you can go into a home and see them firsthand
  4. People are more likely to talk about sensitive topics to a single, experienced interviewer when they are not surrounded by multiple other strangers and while in the comfort of their own home – this is key when your research involves sensitive issues like health, finances and belief systems
  5. Researchers get to see clients really doing things, not just hear them talking about them and trusting their recall, because as we all know, what people say they do and what they really do are often quite different

Which is right for you?

Which of these modes of qualitative inquiry is right for you? It really depends on the questions you need to answer. We’re happy to help you customize an approach based on your unique challenges and needs, but in the meantime, use these tips to start figuring it out:

  • Do consumers need to use and test your product in order to provide feedback? If so, you should conduct on-location interviews where they can try it out within their own environment.
  • Are you testing messages or un-developed concepts that could benefit from multiple perspectives in crosstalk? If so, you should conduct focus groups.
  • Do you have the time and budget to commit to getting the best possible understandings from you target consumers? If so, you should conduct on-location interviews.
  • Do you need answers quickly to validate and support your hunches? If so, you should conduct focus groups.
  • Is your topic a sensitive or intensely personal one? If so, you should conduct on-location interviews.
  • Do you need the buy-in from a large group of co-workers and decision-makers who want to be part of the process? If so, you should conduct focus groups.

If you opt to conduct focus group research, we’ll be there to manage the entire process from finding a facility and recruiting the right participants to moderating your groups and stocking your viewing room with your favorite snacks. If you opt to conduct on-location interviews, we’ll manage that whole process, too, from finding the right participants to training you how to blend in as part of the research team during home and office visits.

Contact us to learn how we can support your qualitative research needs and consumer insights.

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