Focus Group vs. Survey: Differences and How to Choose One

Learn the 4 key differences between focus groups and surveys.

Market research is one of the most important tools a business has. You might have the perfect idea for a product, but until you know who your target audience is and what they need, you can’t market and sell products effectively. That’s why companies try to connect with consumers through various methodologies like focus groups and surveys—but do you know the difference? How do you choose between focus groups vs. surveys?

This overview will help you understand what you can expect from each method, and which might be best for your specific needs.

What is a focus group?

Focus groups typically involve gathering a group of people together for discussion. Companies and organizations might form focus groups to learn more about how consumers perceive their brand, company, product, or even ideas, such as political focus groups.

Typically, a moderator leads the group discussion by asking questions and encouraging discussion among participants. The idea isn’t to get everyone to agree that your product or service is the most desirable. Instead, they’re used to get a better idea of perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes—mostly qualitative data. Organizations can use this information for branding, marketing, advertising, sales, product development, campaigns, and more.

While focus groups were traditionally held in person, today video conferences are becoming more popular. They allow researchers to reach consumers across the country all at once.

What is a survey?

A survey can take many forms, but online surveys tend to be the most popular. They’re used to collect quantitative and qualitative data alike, depending on the questions asked. Surveys have two key components: the questions asked and the process used to collect and analyze the data.

Often, market researchers use online surveys to cast a wider net: they can gather information from a wide representative sample of their consumer base. This allows them to gather and analyze quantitative data that accurately represents their customer base.

Surveys can also be used to collect qualitative data, but it’s important to consider how responses are collected. Text-based, anonymous surveys can encourage more candid answers, but you won’t get the same insight into body language, tone of voice, expressions, and other helpful information. Ideally, survey platforms like Voiceform that have multimedia capability (such as voice) can be used to collect and analyze both qualitative and quantitative data. With the appropriate methodology, researchers can then track changes in responses over time.

Focus group vs. survey differences

While focus groups and surveys can collect similar data, there are some key differences that can help you decide between research methodologies.


Focus groups tend to have a smaller group of respondents, who are often face to face with each other. Although online video conferencing has made this more accessible to participants, the format is not conducive to massive group discussion. Online surveys, on the other hand, allow researchers to target a much larger group of people. By selecting a representative sample of consumers, companies can get answers from a much larger audience.

Response type

The biggest difference between focus groups vs. surveys is the response type. Focus groups are organized around discussion between participants. Moderators lead an interactive conversation, where participants are encouraged to interact with each other during the group. Moderators can also ask follow-up questions in real time, ensuring that participants get a chance to hash out their ideas, reframe perspectives, and consider other people’s perceptions.

Focus groups primarily center around qualitative data, but they may also collect quantitative information like age, location, income, education level, marital status, race, and more. Finally, because of the face-to-face interaction, focus groups allow researchers to monitor nonverbal data like expressions and body language. This can be helpful for analyzing whether the verbal and nonverbal data confirm or conflict with each other.

Online survey responses, on the other hand, can be gathered anonymously. Survey questions may include multiple choice, checkboxes, short answer text, or long answer text. This can encourage more candid responses, but if your respondents aren’t comfortable communicating in writing, you probably won’t get the same depth of information as a focus group.

The exception is when you use a multimedia survey platform like Voiceform—using voice response features encourages more in-depth responses and allows you to analyze nonverbal feedback, too. While researchers can’t immediately follow up with respondents, they may choose to follow up via email afterwards.


Cost is another key difference between focus groups and online surveys. Online surveys tend to be far more cost-effective than focus groups. This helps reduce the labor, travel, and other fees involved. Although focus groups can be conducted online, you still need people to devote hours of their time to managing the discussions.


Finally, online surveys tend to be more efficient. Most surveys only require a day or two to amass the data you’re seeking, whereas focus groups require finding respondents willing to set aside time to participate, as well as a time that works for the participants. Online surveys also allow organizations to poll a much larger group of people.

Which methodology is right for you?

Ultimately, choosing between focus groups vs. online surveys depends on those four key factors: the type of feedback you’re looking for, how many people you want to poll, your budget, and how quickly you need the data.

Create your own voice surveys with Voiceform

When you can’t decide between focus groups vs. surveys for your research methodology, Voiceform delivers the best of both worlds. It’s easier than ever to create multimedia surveys to collect quantitative and qualitative data.

Voiceform’s voice response features allow researchers to analyze non-verbal feedback like tone of voice, along with the verbal data provided. Our platform pairs automated transcription and analysis to provide real-time insight for every question. Now you can collect and analyze qualitative, focus-group quality data from a broader group of participants. To learn more, visit our website or schedule a product demo today.

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