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When testing a product, concept, or idea companies will often hire a third-party company to conduct qualitative research. While there are a number of methodologies that researchers can employ to capture the nuanced responses of target audience respondents, focus groups and in-depth interviews (IDIs) are two of the more common ones.

When working with our clients we consider budget, objective, geography, and time. While focus groups and in-depth interviews can probe deeper and get to the “whys” behind an answer, they are not necessarily interchangeable. This blog will explain the differences between focus groups and in-depth interviews and if both can’t be employed, then which one might be most appropriate depending on what you are trying to discover.

Focus groups and in-depth interviews each have their own strengths, and if the budget allows, conducting focus groups and in-depth interviews offers the most comprehensive insights.


  • Real-world response
  • Observe commonalities  and differences between participants
  • Fluid discovery
  • Brainstorming
  • Showing visuals (logos, etc.)
  • Best when participants are in the same geographic location                                                                                                  


  • Explore more sensitive topics
  • Granular understanding of product being testing
  • Reach a broader audience
  • More detailed answers per question
  • Great when participants are dispersed geographically

Focus groups vs. in-depth interviews

Pulling together a focus group is more than just asking random people to come sit in a room for a few hours and answer questions. A well-organized study first seeks to understand what, precisely, the client is hoping to achieve in its market testing. Understanding the target audience or demographic allows the market researcher to recruit people that fit the “persona types” being mindful to recruit across a broad demographic range so that a realistic variety of voices are heard.

While it’s true that focus group participants have less speaking time than if they were being interviewed individually, what does get revealed is the group dynamic and how responses are potentially influenced in a group setting. The quality of the information gleaned in a focus group is dependent upon the strength and skill-set of the moderator: A moderator that can read the room can often steer the conversation and pull out more nuanced responses from the participants.

If testing any visuals or food or beverage, focus groups are the way to go. It’s much harder to get feedback for visuals or flavors over the phone (although we can use webcam interviews — yet a lot is lost here without that in-person, live reaction we’re seeking).

In-depth interviews vs. focus groups

If you need or want to go deeper on a topic, then in-depth interviews are the way to go. An in-depth participant has the undivided attention of the interviewer and subjects can be explored in more detail. Another consideration for conducting in-depth interviews is it is sometimes easier to recruit participants to commit to an in-depth interview rather than a focus group, as there is more flexibility in scheduling and often doesn’t require any travel by the participant.

Depending on the scope of the project and budget, the market research firm will recommend which qualitative methodology is most appropriate. Choosing a company that is experienced in qualitative research is imperative if you want to get the most out of your investment.

If you need to hone your skills in moderating for both in-depth interviews and focus groups, check out our training programs from InterQ Learning Labs.

Trying to decide between focus groups or in-depth interviews? Contact us for a proposal.