Building the Perfect Qualitative Research Sample

Emily James

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Sophie Grieve-Williams

    What is market research without research respondents? A lot of questions without well-founded answers.

    The insights industry would not function if we lost our research respondents. Stakeholders wouldn’t have any insights to inform their decisions and insight teams would lose business. Luckily, there are customers and consumers out in the world who do want to participate in market research, whether that’s due to a particular incentive or a desire to contribute to a brand’s evolution or to help brands make a change in the wider world. But those participants are proving to be few and far between; it takes a lot of searching to find the right participants who want to contribute and will provide quality detailed data when asked.

    Now what is market research with the wrong research respondents? A lot of questions with incorrect answers based on inaccurate or irrelevant insights. Arguably, this is even worse than having no research participants at all, as stakeholders will take these inaccurate insights and make important decisions with them and then each person who was a part of the insight generation and activation process will face the consequences of whatever degree of failure that comes after.

    It is on both stakeholders and the insight teams guiding them to make sure that they have the correct research sample before any data collection takes place. With some advice from Echo Market Research’s Kerry Hecht and FlexMR’s Maria Twigge, insight teams and stakeholders everywhere will have the perfect qualitative research sample in no time.

    Tweet from FlexMR Tweet This
    What is market research with the wrong participants? A lot of questions with incorrect answers. With advice from Kerry Hecht and Maria Twigge, insight experts will have the perfect sample in no time.

    Challenges of Qualitative Sampling

    With the importance placed on getting the right sample for a research project, there are a few key challenges that we need to understand before we start.

    Kerry Hecht, CEO and Founder of Echo Market Research believes that “we are really our own biggest challenge. When clients are advised that the incentive is too low, there's not enough information, or other potential issues, they really don't want to hear it. I recognize this is a fairly harsh criticism but our industry is in a bit of a crisis when it comes to data quality but it's a situation, we've created for ourselves. We need to take a step back, reflect on what we're asking of our suppliers and we need to listen to their advice. We can't really hold fielding companies responsible for quality if we aren't willing to hold clients responsible.”

    "Our industry is in a bit of a crisis when it comes to data quality. We need to take a step back, reflect on what we're asking of our suppliers and we need to listen to their advice."

    - Kerry Hecht, CEO & Founder of Echo Market Research

    Of course, there are other challenges too, as Kerry mentions that “suppliers are pushed to do things so cheaply that all quality goes out the window.” There are a couple of ways to handle this, with one being to allocate more funding to the sample construction so as to avoid this in the first place, and another way being to communicate with the supplier regularly and make sure you’re getting exactly what you want for the price they state. Choose the right supplier to fit your needs, make sure that their values match with your own so that insight teams get the sample they need.

    How to Build the Perfect Sample

    So now that we’re aware of the challenges, insight teams and stakeholders can take measures into their own hands to avoid them. This is one way to help build the perfect qualitative research sample, but there are other factors to take into account, such as understanding exactly who should be in your qualitative research sample.

    Insight experts need to understand the qualities that make the perfect qualitative research sample. Kerry explains that, “from an individual participant perspective, the perfect sample should be invested in the topic and the process. They should be articulate and interested in both sharing and learning.” We also need to “find the folks in the places they're already talking about your research topic.” This way we are able to find research participants who are already engaged with the topic and will welcome the opportunity to have their voices and opinions heard, elaborate on their needs and innovate along with the researchers and stakeholders present in the research task.

    Once we understand who are perfect sample is, we can then move onto finding where our perfect research sample resides in both the online and offline worlds. Maria Twigge, Research Director at FlexMR, says that, “building the perfect qual sample means casting the net as wide as possible (including 20 or more participants if you can to ensure your insights instil confidence and action across the team) and using a mixture of methods for your recruitment to ensure you capture a range of perspectives, from email, online and social media, which are very cost effective, to on street and specialist recruitment agency partners.”

    "A wide selection of sample sources, both traditional and modern, helps to ensure you capture insights from the right mix of voices."

    - Maria Twigge, Research Director at FlexMR

    However, even if we know who our perfect sample are and where to find them, we need to understand that successful recruitment statistics are lower than we’d like, and it is harder than we realise to get research participants on board. Kerry Hecht mentions that “recruiting for communities often requires us to walk the line between qualitative and quantitative recruitment. A conversation I find myself having often, about this topic, is quantity over quality. Somehow, we've come to accept participation rates of 25% or less. With that in mind, I think that you should be able to justify the need for larger sample sizes and that justification should go beyond - we expect low participation rates. Do you need the numbers to be large enough to compare sub-groups?”

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    Kerry Hecht and Maria Twigge share great advice on how to build the perfect qualitative sample for any research project through any challenge.

    Recruiting respondents from here should be easier right? Unfortunately, recruiting respondents doesn’t automatically ensure they are going to be engaged in the research process. From the insight experts point of view, there are actions we can implement to make sure the sample is relevant and ready to participate fully in the research project. Kerry explains that “insights experts should recruit in a way that matches the methodology using both qualitative and quantitative tools. We should be verifying IP addresses, asking open-ended questions, asking for video submissions and we should do that over multiple phases with at least some portion of it happening on the platform the community will ultimately be housed in.”

    Kerry elaborates on this, saying that “multi-phase screening can be automated and it's the only way that we can ensure we're dealing with not just real people but the right people. Time and time again, we are asked to skirt this process to save money and when we conceded to that - we end up with a community full of fake people.”

    Lastly, finding the right incentive is important for both driving the right people into your research project and engaging them throughout the insight generation and activation process. Kerry comments “it seems like, more and more, we're asked to find people to participate in projects with little to no monetary incentives [and] we are not willing to give information on the research project, topic and findings.”

    We need to learn to fill research participants in on why this research is being conducted, what stakeholders expect to do with the insightful outcomes and what changes are looking to be made. We need to use our common sense, as Kerry says, “if you're asking people to do something you wouldn't do - you should manage your expectations.” Build the research experience you would go through yourself, and the perfect sample will follow.

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