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Qualitative research can offer a more in-depth understanding of consumers than statistics or Big Data patterns can. There are a variety of methods used for person-to-person qualitative research. If your study seeks to better understand motivations, opinions, and preferences (versus a study that would observe shopping or mobile and online patterns), the two main qualitative methods are in-depth interviews (commonly abbreviated as IDIs) and focus groups. In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between the two approaches, and explain what types of studies each method is best suited for.

Why choose in-depth interviews?

In-depth interviews consist of one-on-one interviews with industry experts, prospects, or clients that a company is seeking to better understand. They can be held in-person or over the phone, and they will last anywhere from a half hour to two hours. A moderator will take the participant through a discussion guide, and for each new topic the moderator may ask additional questions or probe for further insight.

In-depth interviews are best suited to topics that may be sensitive in nature, such as input on personal care products, confidential company policies, or financial questions. In-depth interviews offer greater flexibility because they can be conducted over the phone; this ease of operation makes them a popular tool for qualitative research. The interviews can be spread out over time and the participant pool can come from a nationwide pool, versus just select markets. The most significant drawback of in-depth interviews is that they don’t allow for multiple perspectives at once; however, a skilled interviewer can also spend more time on topics with the participant.

Why choose focus groups?

Focus groups bring together a group of people into one setting (in-person or online), and a moderator who facilitates discussion about a topic. The group dynamic enables a deepening of the discussion because of the variety of participants and their experiences, brainstorming, and the generation of new ideas. Typically, participants of focus groups are chosen because of their profile – either they have relevant industry or personal experience with a product, or they fit a customer persona for a company. Often, if the study design is seeking opinions outside of their typical customer profile, then a few participants are chosen for their “non-typical” patterns.

The ideal focus group size is between 4-7 participants, with at least 2-4 groups per study design to give the total study sample a more robust, holistic data sample. In-person focus groups are generally held at focus group facilities, which offer amenities such as live streaming, DVD recording, and a neutral location for participants to come to. Focus groups may also be held in non-client offices, such as hotel conference rooms. Moreover, for greater depth of subject matter, groups can be held in dyads or triads (one researcher, with two or three participants).

If the localized market sample is insufficient for a desired focus group, conducting the focus group online allows the study to pull from a nationwide sample and offers the convenience of letting people participate from their homes or offices. A moderator will lead the discussion, and participants are able to see other participants through their webcams. The moderator can upload prompts and stimulus materials to aid in the discussion.

Focus groups are best suited to situations that are conducive to brainstorming and group input. For example, if a company is developing a new ad campaign or new messaging services, or if a company is testing out a product concept and would like feedback from multiple people in an industry, focus groups allow for brainstorming, group participation, and generating new ideas via discussion. Focus groups can be a fantastic platform to test ideas and foster creativity, and the insights they provide can be truly transformative for marketing and product development.

When should you conduct focus groups or in-depth interviews?

Focus groups and in-depth interviews are ideally held before a project concept goes to market or before a campaign is launched. However, they are suitable at any stage of project. Often, companies will launch a product or campaign, only to realize that it’s not as successful as they would have hoped. The most cost effective point at which to conduct market research is prior to any public launch of a product or campaign, otherwise, companies will spend unnecessary cost on developing and releasing a product or campaign that could have been refined early on.

Any and every company that develops campaigns and products can benefit from the insights that focus groups and in-depth interviews provide.


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