Focus Groups vs. IDIs

This month we’ll take a comprehensive look at the differences between focus groups and in-depth interviews, and provide insight into the process of choosing to use one or the other.


Focus groups are used to conduct qualitative market research for various ends. A group of participants, usually no more than ten, are recruited to attend a focus group for a given client’s research or marketing qualitative data interests. Participant recruitment is contingent on parameters that are relevant to the research being performed. For example, a supermarket chain wishing to know how it can improve its shopping experience will seek to recruit participants who shop extensively at their chain. The session takes place at a facility that serves as a venue for the focus group, which on average lasts between one to two hours. A moderator guides a group discussion about the shopping experience at this chain for example, and how the group would like to see it improved. Researchers from the supermarket chain observe this conversation and use the results to make updates, adjustments and or improvements.


In-depth interviews (known as IDIs) are also used to conduct qualitative market research, but they differ from focus groups in that there is no actual group setting. Instead, interviews are conducted one-on-one, many times (but by no means exclusively) with industry professionals whose body of knowledge in the industry help the individual participants give more detailed responses to the questions asked. The fact that there is only one participant also allows the individual more time to speak, as opposed to a focus group where participants have to share the time allotted and certain participants may weigh in more heavily than others in the group format.


When it comes to deciding which technique to use, the goals of the research have to be taken into consideration. IDIs are best used in situations where the goal of the research is to get feedback on isolated user experiences. For example, researchers who want to know how people feel about a smartphone’s usability can use an IDI to get detailed individual responses, which are relevant and important as using a smartphone is an individual activity. IDI’s are also preferable in situations where researchers are interested in a sensitive subject, such as serious illnesses, that people might not be comfortable sharing in front of a group.


Using a focus group allows the moderator to encourage and facilitate conversation, which can lead to a feedback effect among the group as a whole that spurs further conversation that might not have come up in an IDI. Essentially, the moderator can get the ball rolling, and the participants get to kick it around and bounce ideas off of each other. Another benefit of focus groups is researchers are able to observe this conversation both live and recorded.


Overall, both focus groups and IDIs have serious clout in the qualitative market research process. Focus groups are useful for initial research because they harness the power of group thought and dynamics to spur conversation and discovery about a broad topic. IDIs are especially useful later in the process when getting down to the nitty gritty. Whether it’s IDIs or focus groups, Observation Baltimore can provide top tier recruiting and facility rental services.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 3rd, 2019 at 12:06 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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