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Look Who’s Talking, Prequel: What Research Participants Say About Research

Time and time again, we’ve all heard talk in our industry around the quality of respondent databases and panel members. However, we are neither implementing sufficient solutions nor giving the panel members a voice regarding what we ask them to do.


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By Kerry Hecht

A few months ago, Jessica Broome and I were discussing different suppliers, respondents and an interesting nugget that popped up in the last GRIT report.  Out of this conversation came an idea – Research on Research Participants.

Time and time again, we’ve all heard talk in our industry around the quality of respondent databases and panel members.  We hear a lot about professional respondents and often seem to look at the people in our databases with a degree of disdain. However, we are neither implementing sufficient solutions nor giving the panel members a voice regarding what we ask them to do.

Back to the last GRIT report: There was one researcher who pushed back.  She called our industry out, collectively, for complaining about the quality of panel participants, but, at the same time, putting forth surveys that very few people would want to go through ever again; ultimately creating a vicious circle.

Jessica and I felt like it was time and necessary to explore why people participate in marketing research, what their journey was to becoming involved, what their motivations (beyond money) are, what they like about it and what they think we could be doing differently or better.

We started with an online community of 5 days with about 40 people.  The participants were recruited with help from both qualitative recruiting specialists and panel companies.  These are some of the key findings from the insight community we created:

  • Most start participating in MR for money: some are between jobs, SAHMs looking to bring in some cash while allowing them flexibility in scheduling, single moms trying to make ends meet.  Others are simply early on in their lives and could use an extra dollar.
  • Word of mouth is important; many have heard about research participation from co-workers, friends or family members, and many continue to spread the word.
  • Most sought out paid research opportunities, though a few were approached by research companies.
  • They really weren’t sure what to expect when they began.
  • For many, MR quickly becomes an enjoyable experience; the money is still important, but there are some other motivations including feeling like they are using their time productively and an opportunity to connect.
  • Despite busy lives full with work, family, and hobbies, most are still what we would call “professional” respondents who participate in research on a regular basis even if they don’t depend on the income they get from incentives.
  • About a third participate in studies at least once a month. Importantly, they see nothing wrong with this and feel that the “no recent participation” policy of many MR companies is not necessary.  In fact, some feel the opposite is true.  The more projects you’ve done the better respondent you’ve learned to be.
  • Long, boring grids and repetitive questioning turns many off of surveys.  Filling in endless bubbles is exhausting and the respondents often feel misled.  They’re frequently told the survey will be 15 minutes and it ends up being 45…  This leaves them with a negative impression and can actually be disruptive to their routines.
  • Most tolerate, but do not enjoy, the recruitment process – they view screeners as surveys, often long ones, for which they are not always compensated. Going through a screener and then being disqualified from a study ranges from irritating to infuriating – and creates an environment where respondents are often motivated to lie just to be allowed into a study so that the time they’ve spent already doesn’t go to waste.
  • There is a real need for respondent education: terminology (survey vs. focus group), why people get screened out or sent home.  While it may not be practical, explaining to the participants on why a study is being conducted or what may be done with the results gives them something to feel invested in.

We decided to conduct a quantitative follow-up study with 1,500 people.  This phase, in analysis now, intends to validate (or not) any impact that someone’s creative ability or learning style may have with regard to their research participation.

Tom Anderson of OdinText Analytics has graciously volunteered his skills in helping us navigate this huge lot of data.  A snippet of those results can be found in one of the recent posts on this blog.

We’ll discuss this and more few weeks from now in Atlanta at IIeX.  Hope to have you part of the conversation!


Our Research on Research Participants project wouldn’t be possible without the support of our partners.  We’d like to thank Critical Mix, Cross Tab, Dub, ProdegeMR, Propeller Insights’ Recruit and Field, Schlesinger Associates, Tango Card, and OdinText Analytics for their contribution.

Join Kerry Hecht, Jessica Broome, and Tom Anderson at IIeX in Atlanta for a workshop exploring the qualitative and quantitative findings of the Research on Research Participants project.  In addition, Jessica and Kerry will be hosting a roundtable discussion with actual market research participants invited for this very purpose.

Click here for more information about the workshop

Click here for more information about the roundtable discussion

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One Response to “Look Who’s Talking, Prequel: What Research Participants Say About Research”

  1. Research on Research at IIeX - Ramius Recollective BlogRamius Recollective Blog says:

    June 30th, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    […] To bring you up to speed – we first conducted an online community among people who participated in multiple kinds of research.  To read the initial blog posting about those findings, please follow this link. […]

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