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Focus Group or Survey - Which Is Right for You?

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
Focus group or survey goepps digital marketing

The customer is always right.

So, how do you determine what’s right for your customers?

Focus groups and surveys are two ways to conduct market research and learn about buyer preferences. This article explains both methods in detail and when to use each one.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a panel of people put together by a business or marketing agency. They are usually leveraged to get consumer feedback through a guided discussion or question-and-answer session. Focus groups are particularly effective for conducting qualitative research on a topic.

For example, imagine you own a sandwich shop. You’re not sure which options consumers might be interested in. You could put together a focus group of regular shop visitors and ask them about their favorite (and least favorite) sandwiches, condiments, bread types, serving sizes, and so on. You could also offer ideas of what you’re considering adding to your menu and see what they think.

Focus group discussions can last a significant amount of time. Therefore, participants should be paid for their time, even if it’s just with free goods or services offered by your business. Always go into a focus group with a clear sense of what you want to learn, an outline, and specific questions to ensure the session doesn’t go off the rails. And make sure you don’t include strong personalities in your group because they could end up skewing the conversation. The people you select for your focus group should provide a generally accurate reflection of your customer base or audience.


A customer survey usually takes the form of a digital experience or poll that prompts someone to answer a few questions to collect quantitative data. Surveys usually involve many more people than focus groups. Most surveys feature a specific rubric to make data collection simple, such as number ratings or ranged options (e.g., strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree).

Imagine you own a restaurant. You could leverage a customer satisfaction survey to determine how diners like your food, service, and overall experience. Surveys are also great for fostering customer engagement with your company. Buyers become stakeholders when you ask them to complete a study that could change the future direction of your business. Even a simple poll distributed through social media can make people feel that their opinion matters.

Focus Group or Survey: Which Is Right for Your Research?

The type of market research you choose is based on your goals and your ability to collect and analyze data.

Focus groups are best when you need specific insights, actionable items, or direct customer feedback. They help avoid the ambiguity that often comes with data-based research. A focus group is ideal for getting answers to “why” questions like “Why do you like blue better than red?”

Surveys are ideal when you want to gather a significant amount of quantifiable data on a topic. They’re best for “what” questions, such as “What do you prefer: Red or Blue?” You can then leverage the data to figure out how to address an issue or move forward. As mentioned, surveys are also a terrific way to engage your customers and encourage them to feel greater ownership in your business.

Now that you know the difference between focus groups and surveys and when to use each, you’ll be able to get the information you need to serve customers better.

Interested in learning more about numbers-based marketing? Check out this article about how to effectively track metrics.

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