From research to content tools: In-person interviews & focus groups

Start with in-person, qualitative research

  • By Team CSI
  • |
  • May 8 2017
  • |
  • Categories: Articles

Start your audience research journey with a qualitative method. Speak to a sample of your audience in person to gather insights on their content experiences, attitudes, wants, and needs. Make sure you begin with a blank slate. This is your chance to uncover insights you might never have thought of – not to confirm your own theories.

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Choose the method that’s most practical for your schedule and audience.


If you only have one audience group, it’s great to talk to a sample of them one on one. Or, if you have more than one audience but can’t get everyone together at the same time, interviews make sense. Try to talk to at least three people from each audience group for 30 minutes to an hour each.

Focus groups

If you have different audience groups and your schedules allow, bring in and talk to six to ten people together for up to two hours. Depending on your project needs, you could run different focus groups with different audiences, or have a few people from each audience at a single focus group. Make sure you facilitate discussion in a way that involves all participants – not just the most vocal people.

Get the information you need

The goal of qualitative audience research is to ask deeper questions than those possible in an online survey. Probe participant responses for more information. Ask why. So, whether you do one-one-one interviews or a focus group, you’ll need to create an environment where your participants feel comfortable enough to open up and give honest answers.

Set the scene

Before your session, try to memorize your questions. This gives the interview a conversational feel, without you consulting your question list. Also get permission to record the session or bring a notetaker to capture responses.

Arrive early and relaxed for the session. Begin with some small talk to break the ice. When it’s time to ask questions, give an introduction and explain how your participants’ insights will be used and why they’re important. Be sure to thank your participants sincerely and often.

Ask and listen

Keep the pace slow, and practice active listening. Stay silent after each question and for a few moments after the participant answers. Give him or her time to think.

Ask using these:

  • Help me understand …
  • Tell me more about …
  • To what extent do you …
  • What would happen if…

Respond with these:

  • Okay. So to make sure I understand…
  • Earlier you told us …
  • I want to go back to something you said …
  • Why do you think that is?

Work backwards from content tools

When coming up with questions, work backwards. Start with the content tools you want and ask questions that will fill in the information gaps. For example, if you’re going to map content to the customer journey, you’ll need information about channels, topics, formats, messages, and content triggers at different stages. To create personas and scenarios, you’ll need more personal and value-based information.

Ask these types of questions: 


  • Where do you spend your time online?
  • Where do you go when you’re looking for specific information on [topic]?
  • How often do you use traditional media, like print brochures, newsletters, newspapers, or magazines?


  • What’s most important to you when it comes to [topic]?
  • What factors influence your decision whether or not to buy [topic]?
  • What kind of content do you want to read about [topic]: informational, entertaining, etc?


  • How often do you watch videos? Listen to podcasts? Read articles? Which do you prefer?
  • How do you like to learn steps in a process?


  • What was it about [company] that made you choose it over others?
  • How would you describe [product/service] to someone who’d never heard of it?

Content Triggers

  • What made you realize you had a problem with [topic]?
  • What made you decide to purchase [product/service]?

Personal / Demographic

  • When you look for information online, do you use your laptop or phone?
  • Generally do you feel rushed and busy? Or do you have a lot of time to relax?

*Specific demographic questions should be asked when relevant and necessary.

Analyze your insights and form hypotheses

Pull your notes or transcribed recordings together and analyze them. Look for patterns or interesting nuggets you hadn’t thought of.  Compile a summary to share with internal stakeholders. We recommend pulling out key quotes from your participants to present your findings in your audience’s own words.

Your insights now become hypotheses to be confirmed with quantitative research. Stay tuned to learn about the next step in the process: online surveys.

Further reading

Learning from journalism when interviewing stakeholders and audiences

From research to content tools: Online surveys