Focus Groups vs Surveys

Philip Cleave
February 28, 2023
Man running a focus group

From knowing what you’re doing well and not so well, to getting the information to make the changes you need. When it comes to your business, the feedback you collect from your customers is likely to be one of your most valuable tools.

However, there are different ways of collecting customer feedback and you’ll typically need to decide between two popular approaches, focus groups and online surveys, if you’re to select the one which best meets your objectives.

But how do you know which option is the best fit for you?

Useful definitions

At this point, it can be helpful to have some definitions to draw on that can give you a quick snapshot of each approach.

What is a focus group?

The more detailed approach of focus groups is exploratory in nature, allowing you to collect more in-depth feedback from your customers.

Typically run within an interactive group setting, focus groups aim to help you understand not only what your customers are thinking, but how and why they think the way they do. The flexibility focus groups provide also allows you to make sudden changes during the sessions, particularly if there’s any interesting points where you want to delve deeper during the course of the conversations.

However, these group sessions can often be much more costly and time consuming to run compared with surveys.

What is a survey?

In contrast, online surveys offer a more direct and cost-effective way of collecting feedback. And their results are more likely to be conclusive than focus groups.

Surveys allow you to ask questions and measure just about anything, in a format that can be as short as a single question to dozens of questions in length.

With a wide range of question types to choose from including closed-ended questions, multiple choice, rating scales, open-ended questions and more, surveys offer a quick and highly engaging way to swiftly reach out to a large number of customers.

The only significant downside is that once you’ve started running your survey, you can’t suddenly introduce or make changes to questions if you have fresh ideas. However, this wouldn’t be a great idea anyway as such disruption mid survey, could seriously impact the validity of data you collected.

Quantitative vs qualitative research

At this point, it’s also helpful to have an understanding of the two main methodologies used in market research, quantitative and qualitative research, as each tends to align with either surveys or focus groups.

If you choose to focus on the quantitative approach, you’ll most likely be interested in cold, hard statistical facts, which is what you need when you’re trying to assess market trends and demand. Subsequently, the structured format of online surveys or questionnaires with closed-ended questions that require respondents to select their answer from a selection of dichotomous or multiple-choice questions, is ideally suited to helping you quickly gather these top levels facts.

In contrast, with the qualitative approach you’ll be looking in a lot more detail to find out about people’s behaviors, and their opinions and attitudes towards something.

In this scenario, the more unstructured format of focus groups can allow you to observe and delve deeper to identify what your customers are really thinking and how they use your products and services. Such research can help you to uncover insights that you were not aware of, so you can further adapt your business model to achieve greater success moving forward.

Focus group advantages and disadvantages

Having familiarized yourself with focus groups, we’re sure many of you will be keen to start running one yourself.

However, as with any approach, there will be some pros and cons of using focus groups. So, it’s prudent to be fully aware of these and therefore better informed about whether it’s the best method for you to adopt first.

Advantages of focus groups

  • Get to hear customers feedback in their own words.
  • Observe their body language as you’re asking them questions or getting them to undertake specific tasks
  • Uncover fresh ideas and issues that your own internal teams may never have considered but are crucial to your customer.
  • Gain the flexibility to quickly dive deeper into any issues that may come up during your discussions.

Disadvantages of focus groups

  • Much more expensive to run than surveys, due to expenses including, but not limited to recruiting participants, rental of premises to run the research, hire of interviewer and/or agency fees, compensation for participation, etc.
  • Risk of receiving skewed and biased results, if you have outspoken participants who dominate group discussions and try to influence others.
  • Difficulties in recruiting qualified participants due to budgetary and time commitments.
  • It can take significant time and effort to plan, organize and run group sessions and then analyze all the feedback

Survey advantages and disadvantages

Similar to focus groups, while there are lots of benefits to be gained from using online surveys, there are some drawbacks. So, again, it’s useful to be aware of these before deciding on the best approach for your next piece of research.

Advantages of surveys

  • Gain feedback quickly. Depending on the length of your survey and your number of respondents, you could conceivably get your results within one to two days.
  • Benchmark your ongoing performance with the structured and consistent format of an online survey, which you can issue and resend at measured intervals over time.
  • Gain more candid answers, as surveys allow respondents to provide feedback in a more private, anonymous setting.
  • Quickly reach more than one type of customer simultaneously.
  • Swiftly analyze and report on your data with the innovative and wide-ranging tools that are typically provided with online survey software.

Disadvantages of surveys

  • Unless you’ve used a lot of open-ended questions, you’ll struggle to get any really in-depth insight about how and why respondents feel the way they do.
  • Unlike with focus groups, if you think of any additional questions you would like to ask once you’ve issued your survey, you’ll need to ask these in a follow-up survey.
  • Unless you’ve included an ‘other’ text box, your respondents may not have a way to proactively provide feedback on issues not included in your survey.

In conclusion: Focus groups vs surveys

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and if you were not already, feel better informed about focus groups and online surveys.

However, if you’re still a little unsure about when it’s best to use the focus group or online survey approach, a good place to start is to think about the questions you need answering, as once you’ve drafted them this should become a lot clearer.

If you can see that it’s your customers inner thoughts that you’re after and you need a more flexible, open-ended approach to get this, then a focus group is probably your best option.

Alternatively, if you need some conclusive statistical data to help support a hypothesis or any other initiative you’re looking to carry out, the faster and more direct approach of online surveys is the better route to pursue.

Maximize the performance of your surveys

While the quality of your questions and metrics choice goes a long way towards getting you the feedback you need, you also need to ensure that each stage of your survey from survey creation and distribution to analysis and reporting is as good as it can be. But this starts with having the right survey tools.

Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.