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Market Research - the 8 important aspects of finding people for research projects - the ever-increasing challenge of respondent recruitment and the trials, tribulations and tricks to getting it right.

Any names or ascertains used are for example purposes only and don’t actually refer to real life living people or companies.

It’s no secret that finding people for market research projects is a tricky business. Not only do companies often need to speak with a very specific - and sometimes hard-to-reach - target audience, but the industry is littered with time-wasters and ‘professional respondents’ who continue to make the process increasingly difficult.

Professional Respondent - Noun.

An individual who provides false answers to a recruitment screener in order to take part in market research and thus receive the incentive, despite not truly fitting the desired criteria.

MRFGR has over a decade of experience in finding the right people for research. It might be a tough job, but here are our top tips for making sure it’s done properly.

1. Market research incentives

The incentive - to attract the attention and encourage participation of market research participants - is the be all and end all of your main respondent recruitment process. A good incentive will grab the attention of the right people, and should also maintain their interest through rain, sleet, snow, or gloom. You need to consider scenarios that could impede your respondent from taking part, and ensure that your incentive acts as an appropriate counter-balance. In an ideal world, the incentive will always make attending your research more important than anything else - but because we live in the real world, sadly this isn’t always the case. A good incentive should tempt a person away from an evening with friends, even a hot date, but it’s worth mentioning that not all events can be counteracted with a good incentive (medical emergencies, etc).

You should walk the fine line between offering a quality incentive and respecting your client’s budget. Throughout the years, MRFGR has worked with many charities, universities, and smaller agencies, who need to adhere to a strict spending limit. We’ve always been able to meet them halfway, and advise on an adequate incentive that doesn’t flush away a large portion of their allowance.

The following factors can impact the overall value of your incentive, making the difference between a worthwhile reward and a lacklustre compensation:

  • Cash or voucher? Cash is always king! We always advise cash payment over anything else. The truth is that gift cards are limited in how they can be spent, and just aren’t as appealing for that reason. Where gift cards are the only option, we advise the value to be at least 50% higher than any cash alternative.

  • Will respondents receive a free product or service? Gifts shouldn’t really be given as an award for participating in market research because it can lead to an unnatural bias (only those interested in said product will turn up), and can result in a higher rate of dropouts;

  • How is the payment made? 30 day payment terms via postal cheque just isn’t going to cut it for anyone. Payment should be immediate by cash or bank transfer but (in the worst case), it can be within 3 days of the session.

  • What are the requirements? Online market research can be completed from a respondent’s own home, which ultimately allows for a lower incentive. Where travel is involved, you need to take this into account and ensure the incentive value is high enough to motivate participants to make the necessary journey.

2. Market research advertisements

The advertisement is probably the most important part - it’s your first port-of-call with any individuals that you want to engage in your market research. Whether for social media or an email to your database, it needs to be short, concise, to-the-point, and informative without being leading. Display:

  • The market research incentive
  • £60 Paid Market Research

  • The topic of the market research
  • Soft Drinks

  • The requirements
  • We are currently looking for respondents to take part in a market research focus group in Manchester centred around 'drinks'.
    The group will be taking place on Tuesday 21st November, 7.00pm - 9.00pm.

  • Details of how payment is made
  • The incentive (£60) will be paid in cash at the end of the group.

  • And perhaps a general idea of who you’re looking for (while remembering to keep the full criteria a secret!)
  • E.G. Shoppers in London

  • A relevant image can also be a useful mechanic for grabbing a user’s attention as they scroll through their timeline.

3. Market research outreach

Market research outreach involves communicating your advertisement for market research participants to as many relevant people as possible. If you’ve been unable to meet your quotas through contacting a database or your social media followers, then outreach is the next best thing. Always try reaching out to the following places:

  • Local communities and groups
  • Forums or Online Sites focused on your desired subject area
  • Relevant facebook pages/groups
  • University societies

When communicating your requirement to these places, remember that it’s very unlikely that they’ll be well-versed in market research, and probably have no idea what respondent recruitment is. Stay on message, but at the same time leave a little room to introduce yourself and explain what you do. A simple sentence should suffice, E.G. ‘Hi Robert, my name is Paul and I work for a Market Research company called MRFGR. We’re currently recruiting individuals in London to attend a paid market research study and I’m wondering if you could help me.”

However, contacting people out the blue and offering a cash reward is a fast-track route to landing in the spam bin. A 2015 study indicated that only 79% of genuine, commercial emails actually arrive in a receiver’s inbox - and the number of communications being flagged as spam is constantly on the rise. You need to be conscious of this and make a deliberate effort to ensure your outreach efforts are not lost to this hungry algorithm.

Good methods of ensuring your outreach isn’t labelled as spam include:

  • Personally address any emails where possible;

  • Make each email or post unique to some extent. A good technique is to simply say how you found them;

  • Don’t have a misleading subject line. There’s no point trying to tempt individuals into reading your message with a lie. That starts everything on the wrong foot.

  • Include contact methods;

  • Remain polite, professional, and ensure your communication is well-worded;

  • Be wary of links and never hide them behind a “Click here!” hyperlink. Years of internet experience teaches us all that hidden links are not to be trusted.

4. Market Research Screening

Market research companies rely on the recruitment screener to capture their required audience. Nowadays, it’s an online survey devised to assess participants’ suitability - and those who aren’t right for the research are ‘screened out’ (in other words, they’re told that they don’t fit the market research requirement on this occasion).

Market research recruitment screeners need to be:

  • Short (think no more than 10-15 closed questions). Remember, a lot of people who complete a recruitment screener won’t go on to be selected - you don’t want to waste a large amount of anyone’s time if you can avoid it. Otherwise, are they really going to apply for more research in the future?

  • Shareable - ensure people can easily share the market research screener with friends or family members who might also be interested as a simple method of boosting your potential responses by 10%-15%.

  • Unbiased - questions shouldn’t lead respondents to provide a certain answer. Instead of asking, “Have you shopped at Tesco in the last 6 months?”, ask, “Which of the following shops have you visited?”, provide a list of all major supermarkets, only let them select 1 or 2, and when they pick Tesco, ask “When did you last visit Tesco?”. Including survey logic in your online screener can massively help in creating an unbiased questionnaire - E.G. only show, “When did you last visit Tesco?” if they actually selected Tesco - otherwise, use logic to skip the question or screen-out.

5. Verifying market research respondents

Verifying market research respondents is the biggest pitfall when finding people for research. You’d be surprised by how many market research recruitment companies fall short of this all-important step and don’t verify the respondent’s details. Once you have a successful market research candidate on your hands, it’s vital that you give them a quick call and double-check their responses to the screening questionnaire. Not only is this a method of catching out any professional market research respondents who may not be able to remember what answers they originally gave, but it’s also a useful tactic for checking any inaccuracies.

A five minute call is all it takes, and it could very well make the difference between finding someone who fits the bill perfectly, and aggravating your client with someone who actually falls way outside of the agreed market research screening criteria.

When you’re sourcing hard-to-reach individuals (particularly b2b customers as opposed to general members of the public within a consumer research study), don’t be afraid to ask for proof if required. In 2017, MRFGR was tasked with recruiting landlords who were renting out at least 2 or more properties for participation in 1-2-1 market research depth interviews in London. As part of our comprehensive verification process, we requested proof in the form of council licenses and leasing documents. As a result of this extra step, we were able to recruit all respondents with a 100% confidence rate.

6. Market research participant engagement

There’s nothing worse than a respondent sat in the middle of a focus group, arms crossed, scowling at their feet, resistant to giving input - and yes, you still need to pay them an incentive for the privilege of them turning up! It’s the bane of every moderator’s career, but a good market research company can stop the likelihood of this happening by simply engaging with respondents before the scheduled market research session. During the 5 minute verification telephone call, you can easily get an idea of how chatty and interested a respondent is. Yes/no answers, a lack of enthusiasm or little understanding, and no real communication are all signs that this respondent won’t be responsive enough to give your client the detailed feedback they require. As standard practice, MRFGR speaks with all respondents to assess their engagement with the proposed market research project prior to their taking part.

As way of an example, in 2018, MRFGR.com recruited members of the general public to attend a market research workshop on the topic of how the government finances local infrastructure. The client was especially keen to ensure that individuals were fully engaged with the topic before they attended the group and had a lot to say on the subject. MRFGR did this in 2 ways: 1) we asked respondents specific questions relating to the topic and were able to filter out those who displayed little interest or weren’t able to provide much of a response and 2) via a 5 minute conversation by telephone in which we ensured that participants were as equally enthusiastic about the market research as we and the client were.

7. Reminding the market research respondent

The possibility of dropouts has loomed large over many a project (and if you’re not following these market research recruitment tips, embarrassingly low respondent turnouts will be common!). MRFGR employs a 3-step process to ensure that market research participants don’t forget their session time, know the exact location (and location considerations) and remain willing and available to attend:

  • Step 1: We book the participant in by telephone and check their availability for the scheduled dates and times.

  • Step 2: Upon completion of the above, we send an email which double-confirms the dates, times and asks them to respond to certify receipt and agreement.

  • Step 3: We give them a quick call on the morning of their research as a courtesy and to ensure that they’re still happy to attend.

  • Step 4: Have 2 to 3 fully screened reserve market research participants from your qualifying list who are prepared to step in at the last hour in an effort to preempt any unexpected dropouts. As a note, particularly for traditional offline market research projects such as focus groups, co-creation workshops, depth interviews etc, it is of paramount importance that these people are locally based to the research, and you are aware of exactly how much notice they would need to take part in the market research sessions.

8. Market research back-checking

Always be conscious of where your market research participants come from; fake respondents equal bad results, and inadequate back-checking has been a rife problem within the market research industry since its very beginning. Many (and that’s probably about 95%!) of market research agencies utilise what is known as ‘independent recruiters’ - a largely unregulated field that tends to be the source of many professional market research respondents, individuals who shift themselves into the desired criteria through deceit, having been fed what they need to say i.e. “Hi John, it’s Jane again, I’ve got another one of those paid market research jobs worth £75 if you can pretend ‘this time’ that your married with kids and drive a BMW 7 Series….. it’s only a hour and Peter and Paul are going as well but obviously just remember you’re not meant to know them otherwise I’ll get in trouble”.

Be very aware of the dangerous threat that these independent market researchers recruiters pose to your market research projects, and understand that while they may be cheap, the cost of inaccurate data is much dearer. If independent recruiters are part of your process, having run short of other options, always double-check the participants - ring them, re-screen them, and re-re-screen them again. It’s not all independent recruiters, but it is a large number of them who unfortunately focus more on getting their fee over finding genuine people for research.

Interestingly, MRFGR.com was actually started back in 2008 to combat this very problem (rogue independent market research recruiters invalidating projects with bad respondents) and as such all our market research projects are recruited by our very own specially trained inhouse team to strict recruitment guidelines (and who are also adept in spotting bad respondents!). We never hint, lead or feed individuals screening requirements, and we remain persistently vigilant to ensure that we never send a participant to a research session without being entirely confident of their genuineness. Unlike many other agencies who only check 10% of the respondent pool, MRFGR performs 100% full quality back-checks on all market research participants. Only in very rare and exceptional circumstances do we reach out to a handful of trusted recruiters to help us source a particularly hard to reach market research demographic/respondent type (perhaps less than 0.1% of our total projects). Even then, we follow our own advice and don’t provide the recruiter with too much information and personally re-screen any respondents they put forward.

Conclusion

Finding people for research, or what is technically known in the industry as market research respondent recruitment, is extremely challenging, but it’s by no means impossible. The process should be handled with care by experienced individuals who are not only familiar with how the industry works, but know what it takes to find the perfect respondent for your research project, and the steps they should take to ensure their validity. The most beneficial way of delivering a foolproof respondent recruitment process is simple: Incentivise, Advertise, Screen, Verify, Engage, Remind.

Have a question about finding people for your research? Need market research advice? Need help with a market research project? Head over to our contact page and say hi!