One-on-one interviews are the Rodney Dangerfield of research. They don’t get the respect they deserve, even though they can produce uniquely informative and insightful findings.
As a form of qualitative research, one-on-one interviews can penetrate issues more effectively than focus groups. One-on-one interviews are more conversational and flexible; potential participants are selected precisely, and the one-on-one environment yields candid insights.
The advantage of one-on-one interviews lies in who is interviewed. One-on-one interviews typically are scheduled from lists of customers, key stakeholders, managers or elected officials. In most cases, potential participants are recognized as “influentials” who impact opinions of others.
Participation rates are high even though you are targeting a very specific group of busy people. Why? The interviews are scheduled to meet their schedule, not at a specific day, time and place to accommodate client schedules. Also, key stakeholders like sharing their opinions, especially when assured comments are not for attribution.
Focus groups and one-on-one interviews both rely on discussion guides to propel discussion. Focus groups allow researchers – and clients – to observe a group reaction to a discussion guide consisting of questions, value propositions, logos or advertising messages. One-on-one interviews are more like confessionals when subjects feel comfortable to share their personal beliefs and attitudes. You can get unfiltered viewpoints directly from people that you interview.
With these virtues, why do clients purse their lips when asked about one-on-one interviews? Maybe they doubt how 20 well-conceived one-on-one interviews with a representative sample can outdo 500 randomly selected telephone surveys or a series of well-facilitated focus groups. They should erase their doubts and have faith. One-on-one interviews can deliver the goods.
Here are some excellent uses of one-on-one interviews:
Confirming alignment on objectives: One-on-one interviews are a discrete way to see if your managers or board members are in sync with a new overarching policy or strategic plan and, if not, to learn why not. Using a skilled third-party interviewer who will treat the interviews confidentially can generate a wealth of candid observations. Employing one-on-one interviews before full implementation can save a lot of frustration and embarrassment.
Floating trial balloons: If you have a radical idea, one-on-one interviews can give you an advance read on how a defined audience will regard your out-of-the-box concept. The interviews will expose the most salient arguments opposing your idea and reveal strongest arguments supporting it. Findings can provide clues as to whether your trial balloon will soar or crash. More important, findings offer bread crumbs of how to proceed to avoid a crash.
Evaluating New Branding: Creating a new name, logo and visual identity is at its core subjective. One-on-one interviews can triangulate some perspective from stakeholders, customers or competing brand managers. Findings won’t magically produce a name, logo or visual identity, but can point to a productive direction and identify some key concepts. Findings also can warn of dead ends or bad ideas, which can save a lot of wasted time, energy and money.
Auditing media attitudes: Media audits can be valuable ways to assess relationships with reporters and editors who cover your business, products and services. The most effective way to conduct media audits is through one-on-one interviews. A third party, preferably someone with his or her own rapport with reporters and editors, can fetch the most candid observations and useful suggestions for improving media relationships.
Tapping Influencer insights: People who influence the behavior, preferences and consumer choices of others can be a valuable source of insight. One-on-one interviews may be the only viable way to capture that insight. Coincidentally, the outreach can establish or enhance relationships with key influencers.
Sampling diverse perspectives: Diversity and inclusion are increasingly important in organizations, but that priority doesn’t always scale down to understanding diverse perspectives within a group or team. One-on-one interviews with a diverse range of employees can suss out subtle and not-so-subtle differences in perspective. That knowledge can lead to greater cohesion in a unit and broader understanding of the range of viewpoints and cultural lenses in an organization.