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Oct 17, 2011

In-Depth Interviews (Part Two of Four) - Advantages of In-Depth Interviews Versus Focus Groups


In Part one of In-Depth Interviews, the attributes/skills of an effective interviewer were presented. Part two covers the strengths of in-depth interviews versus focus groups. It also builds a case for why, in many instances, the in-depth interview methodology is a better choice for B2B marketers. Here are some of the key advantages of the in-depth interview (IDI):

Deeper Insight - IDIs allow you to plumb deeper with a participant, and to gain greater knowledge and insight than focus groups. It’s the “individual” nature of this methodology that makes a difference. In a 90 minute, eight person focus group, a typical participant talks around eight-ten minutes. Devoting a full 90 minutes to a single participant with IDI allows more data to be collected. Another related advantage of IDI is the ability to appropriately ask in-depth follow-up questions and probes without interfering with interview dynamics.

Greater Flexibility - Gathering a group of B2B professionals together in a single location at a specific time that suits everyone for a focus group is difficult, though online focus groups can help mitigate this issue. Another layer of difficulty is added if there is a requirement to use a professional focus group facility. IDIs, on the other hand, can be physically set up almost anywhere (even over the phone), and are far easier to schedule.

Easier and Faster Recruiting - Recruiting the right candidate for a B2B research study is challenging. The higher the title and the more technical the title is, the greater the challenge. Relating back to “Greater Flexibility,” it is typically easier and faster to recruit a participant for a B2B IDI than a traditional focus group. Coordinating one schedule is always easier than coordinating many. This flexibility in recruiting and location eliminates key barriers for a recruit becoming a participant.

Better Rapport - A skilled interviewer can establish rapport in both IDI and focus group settings; however, the dynamics between interviewer/participant for IDI are far different than for a focus group. Participants will almost always feel far more comfortable talking openly, honestly and in-depth about issues in a one-to-one setting (IDI) than in a focus group. This typically leads to richer and deeper data being collected.

Better Research Refinement - Key issues tend to surface quickly with both IDI and focus group research methods. This discovery can impact how an interviewer approaches specific areas of inquiry or even opening new areas that were not anticipated. Refinements and enhancements can be implemented quicker with IDI, maximizing the opportunity to collect better data. Learning from the first or second participant using IDI allows new knowledge to be applied to all subsequent interviews. Even if the same knowledge was gained from participants in a first focus group, it could not be used until the second. The lost opportunity cost for data per interview on the first focus group could be significant.

Faster and Cheaper - In most cases, IDIs are less costly and can be less time intensive than focus group research. Special facilities and higher-end recording equipment are not required. As explored above, recruiting and scheduling are typically easier. That said, IDIs could be relatively expensive, depending on the number of interview, the make up of the audience and the geographical footprint of a study.

IDIs are not a panacea and will never supplant focus group methodology in qualitative research. Interviewers can inject bias into studies. Generalizations from IDI and focus group research results can usually not be made because the sample sizes are small and random sampling methods are not used. IDI provides excellent input for quantitative studies. However, when the same stories, themes, issues and topics emerge from participants, a sufficient sample has been reached on which decisions can practically be reached. (Boyce and Neale, 2006)

A personal note: Practically speaking, after conducting numerous B2B focus groups and IDIs, I tend toward IDIs. This methodology has typically yielded more insightful data in a shorter period of time and has shaped future work in a more direct and productive way.

Part three of our series covers how to get ready for and conduct an effective IDI.

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