How To Choose Between a Focus Group, Survey or Interview

If you’re a small business owner, student or marketer, you’ll eventually need to test out a new product or concept.  Some of the best ways to do this are to use a focus group, survey or interview.  The question is, how do you tell which option is the best option for your business and needs?  Here’s how to tell:


A survey is a set of questions that is given to a specific set of participants.  Surveys can be paper, digital, face-to-face or carried out over the phone.  The participants can be randomized or selected and usually submit anonymous answers.  One of the biggest pros of administering a survey is that participants feel compelled to be totally honest, as they are anonymous and not directly corresponding with a real human.  Surveys are very efficient in the sense that they can be quickly administered online or at a popular polling place such as a mall.

Surveys are generally cost-effective because many survey participants are not compensated for their time.  One of the downsides of administering a survey is the fact that you can’t tell what a participant means when selecting a particular answer.  Therefore, you’ll have to design the survey questions in a very careful manner so as to avoid human error or confusion.  Most of the information you receive from surveys will be quantifiable information that is useful for proof and reports.


An interview is a personalized version of a survey.  In an interview, the interviewer will sit down with the interviewee and ask him or her a specific set of questions pertaining to the product or concept at hand.  The important factor to consider with an interview is that the results are much more quality-driven as opposed to quantity-driven.  Though you won’t get as much information from a wide range of individuals, you’ll get comprehensive, in-depth information from one participant.  Of course, you can hold multiple interview sessions, but this will end up costing you a significant amount of money.  Interviews can also be done over the telephone, which leads to increased mobility and therefore lower cost.

Focus Group

A focus group is a session that takes place with multiple participants.  Usually, a moderator will ask a general question and whoever feels compelled to speak will do so.  This is a great way to see how your product or concept is regarded within the group dynamic and is a great way to get a quick feel for how people feel about the questions you are asking.  For example, if you were doing a focus group to get feedback for this web graphic, you could ask focus group participants to look at it on a computer there in the room and then give their thoughts about what they did or didn’t like about it.

In terms of cost, holding a focus group can get expensive if you have to calculate in food, a moderator and if the participants require payment.  But you will be seeing and receiving opinions from more people than if you were to hold one-on-one interviews.  One of the downsides of focus groups is that you have a limited time to dig into the answer of each person.

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