Market research is used by product manufacturers and service providers to make decisions, about how to best meet consumer needs and capture greater market share. The outcomes of market research inform strategic decision-making at all levels, from which of two ad strap-lines to run in a magazine to whether or not to develop and launch a new model of car.
When you take part in qualitative market research, such as in a focus group or group discussion, you will have been carefully selected to represent a specific type of behaviour or thought process, one that the decision-maker needs to know more about or understand better. You will be selected via a detailed questionnaire and/or interview, and may not know precisely what criteria decided your selection – but you can be sure that many other people were not right for the project, when you were spot-on.
Ethical market research recruitment agencies such as Saros Research Ltd in the UK apply these selection criteria with great rigidity, because this is what their clients are paying for. If someone is not eligible to take part, they simply move to the next person – and if this happens to you, don’t worry, because the right project will come along for you at a later time. They will NOT try to bend you to fit the one in front of them at the time!
In the UK the Market Research Society has a code of practice which recommends that people should not take part in qualitative market research too frequently. Six months is regarded as the minimum recommended ‘gap’ between occasions, with other caps on overall numbers. This is because the qualitative research process is a two-way thing: there is no such thing as ‘pure’ research which does not in some way influence the behaviour, attitudes and thought processes of those taking part. Of course, this is a good deal of what makes it fascinating for participants, and the feedback received at Saros is that people love being made think about things they take for granted in new and different ways… but it does mean that they are never quite the same ‘naïve’ consumers again in the future! Anyone who takes part in research a little too often tends to stick out like a sore thumb to researchers, who know exactly how people react in a range of circumstances.
Another reason for restricting participation is to ensure the maximum number of people can potentially participate in research events. Qualitative research is never intended to be ‘representative’ of a population, but it does need to represent specific viewpoints and attitudes without other factors of bias (such as being known to a recruiter) distorting that perspective. There are still millions of people in the UK alone who have never had the opportunity to take part in paid market research, and as such their views are not being taken account of by vast swathes of decision-making mechanisms – and they are missing out on participant payments (typically £30-100). This does not serve the industry, or the population, well.
Of course there are some focus group recruiters who are happy to disregard the 6 month rule, and regularly recruit the same people into research over and over again. But if you find yourself in contact with one of these people, it is important to understand that they are violating a very important aspect of the industry code of practice. These codes are there to protect the interests of all parties to research, whether clients, researchers or public participants – and if a recruiter is happily disregarding one aspect of the code then you cannot rely on other tenets being complied with. If they collude with you to lie about this aspect, then what else are they lying to you or their clients about?
Agencies such as Saros Research Ltd who are Company Partners of the Market Research Society will not offer you the chance to participate in research repeatedly and earn a ‘second income’, but they will ensure you have the full protection of the MRS Code of practice, including your right to be paid, to have your confidentiality respected, and your identity/personal information protected from misuse.