By Tamara Irminger Underwood
Getting the most out of a market research study first means getting the right people to participate. Qualitative research studies are powerful tools that organizations use to make better informed, quicker, and more profitable business decisions. Recruiting successful study participants doesn’t just happen by chance. Successful market researchers spend a lot of time developing screening guides to help separate qualified and unqualified participants.
Without proper screening, the validity of the market research study is called into question. If the insights aren’t reliable then the whole purpose of the study is for naught. Think of a map. If a map didn’t accurately reflect the streets and highways, you’d not be able to get to your destination. The same analogy applies to market research. Every step of a market research study needs to meet specific benchmarks if the researcher is to feel confident in the final product.
No two market research study objectives are identical and each study must be individually designed and calibrated depending on its particular requirements, objectives, and variables.
Given the individuality of each market research study, let’s explore three best practices to consider when screening for market research studies.
Qualitative Market Research Screening Best Practice #1: Be specific, but not too specific
Depending on the scope of the study, you first need to identify people who minimally qualify at various levels. Rarely will one question alone decide a participant’s qualification. Typically, a series of questions will be asked and it requires going through a number of these questions first before deciding if someone meets the minimal requirements.
Once a person has met the more general requirements, the screener questions will usually get more detailed. For example, if a study wanted to gain insights from owners of a specific make and model of a car, logic has it that the screening guide would need only ask this one question: Do you own this make/model of car. If a person said yes they owned this car, and you filled a study based on this singular response, you’d likely end up with a number of participants who didn’t actually qualify. Sometimes people are confused when they answer a question, or sometimes they want to participate because the incentive pays well. No matter the reason why someone answered incorrectly (or dishonestly), you don’t want to discover this once the study is underway. It is much harder to substitute last minute than to find qualified people in the first place.
While specific questions are really important in a screening guide, there are also examples of the questions being too specific and restrictive.
The objective of a screening guide is to be specific enough to identify qualified participants without being so restrictive as to exclude participants who could provide valuable insights.
Qualitative Market Research Screening Best Practice #2: Understand How Incentives Influences Recruitment
Nowadays participation in a qualitative market research study will offer some incentive or compensation for participation. Trying to recruit participants for a qualitative market study is near impossible if an incentive isn’t offered. Qualitative studies are usually more demanding of participants’ time, and providing compensation is a fair way to balance the equation between participant and researcher.
That being said, it is imperative to establish safeguards and controls during the screening process to weed out people trying to take part in the study only for the incentive.
There are a number of ways that screening questions can drill down to verify that a recruit is answering honestly. The scope of the study will determine the types of questions or verification steps required by a recruit to fully qualify to participate in a study.
Qualitative Market Research Screening Best Practice #3: Keep it Short and Sweet
If a screening guide is too long or arduous, you’ll have a hard time recruiting people. Most people, no matter how qualified, won’t spend a lot of time at the preliminary stage of gatekeeping.
Screening is a distillation process. You quickly want to sort the “wheat from the chaff” and end up with a pool of qualified participants that best represent the demographic parameters of a study. Remember that while there is an ideal sample size in qualitative research, you’ll want to recruit some extra people just in case there are last minute substitutions required.
Finally, when you hire an experienced market research firm with their own recruiting capabilities, the good news is that they will write the screener – but first they’ll need your input. Be prepared to think thoroughly through the persona categories that fit your target audiences, and an experienced recruiting team will be able to translate this into a screener that sifts through hundreds of participants until they find the right ones that match your segments.