9 Successful Ways to Recruit Market Research Participants

marketresearch_300It’s not uncommon to hear stories where wrong business decisions were made based on biased results from market research.

It happens in all sectors, from startups to established companies alike. Kraft decided to name its Vegemite iSnack 2.0 based on results from Internet-based market research. However, the new name simply did not resonate with Australians and it was ridiculed so much that Kraft withdrew the name. But the damage to the brand was done.

The ultimate goal of market research is to deliver a clear signal of market viability—or more commonly, non-viability—of a new product or service. In other words, it’s to indicate whether or not the market even wants the solution. The sooner the signal can be delivered to innovation teams, the better time and resources can be allocated between projects. But the research process is imperfect. Some research methods deliver rapid but less conclusive results, others take time but carry more weight. Sample size and makeup, fidelity of the tested concept, environment and context, research design, and budget all have a bearing on the validity of the results returned.

Market research methods have evolved and expanded along with proliferating media channels.  Here are nine different channels to recruit successfully participants for market research.

1. Crowdsourcing: A crowdsourcing site like Amazon Mechanical Turk is a low cost way to recruit participants for your research. The average wage is $1.40 per hour on Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Previous research has shown that MTurk users are a valid alternative to traditional human subject pools in social sciences. However, research has also highlighted that MTurkers are often younger and more computer savvy.  It is easy to recruit hundreds of research participants for your research, but the quality of the data can be questionable.

2. Broadcast email: Recruiting emails are sent to an email list of a certain interest group or an email list of a certain organization. The cost is low and, if your list contains a large number of subscribers, it could easily help you to recruit a good number of research participants. But response fatigue is a particular risk with this method. Over-exploiting members on those lists by sending repeated recruitment emails can result in the recruiter being flagged as a source of spam.

3. Word of Mouth/Snowball Sampling: This technique helps you build out your potential pool from current participants. They help recruit for you, and it “snowballs” in growth – for both data and the group as a whole. Word of mouth referrals generally deliver robust results within the recruiter’s network of friends and family. The cost is low and the quality is high. Yet there is no guarantee about how many participants you will be able to recruit. Fingers crossed! One downside with this channel is that due to the snowball nature of this channel, participants’ backgrounds tend be homogeneous.

PARC_Blog_Ad_2504. Standard media: The average cost to recruit a research participant through a press release and related print or TV/radio reports is about $46.98, according to the results from a study conducted by Dr. Jaimee Heffner from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who evaluated the effectiveness of different smoking cessation techniques. It usually takes time to recruit a sufficient number of research participants through this method. However, the quality of the channel is very good because participants are usually highly motivated and the market research team can obtain a high level of interaction from these participants.

5. Internet media: Like the standard media channel, press releases are distributed to Internet media web portals and online forums. To reach your target market, it is ideal if you can work with existing vertical web portals/online forums in your targeted industry. Compared to standard media channels, the cost is lower and the turn-around time faster. The quality of the channel is considered very good because being active on these vertical web portals/online forums is a good indicator of their interests.

6. Search engine marketing (e.g., Google AdWords): Purchasing online search engine ads enable you to recruit participants who search for specific keywords. Users’ behavior is the strongest signal of their interests, thus the market research team can be confident that the participants they recruit are mostly likely to fit the profile they have in mind.

Regarding cost, it is comparable to standard media according to the results from Dr. Heffner’s research. The enormous advantage of this channel is that it can reach millions of users online and you will be able to recruit quickly a sufficient number of participants for your research purpose.

7. Social media (e.g., Facebook): The market research team can create pages and launch ads within social media sites to recruit research participants. On social network sites like Facebook, the market research team obtains complete access to the participants’ profile and their social networks, so the quality of data is high. However, the cost is much higher compared to other channels. Studies have found that the average cost per participant recruited from social media is three times higher than that from search engine marketing channels.

8. Online panels: An online panel is a group of selected research participants who have agreed to provide information at specified intervals over an extended period of time. Currently, market research firms heavily rely on online panels to get consumer feedback. Each online panel usually has millions of members who have provided additional information about themselves and their household, such as demographics, ownership, and lifestyle information.

The cost is low, ranging from $2 – $10 per participant and it’s easy to recruit participants.  But it is hard to get direct interactions with the members because companies who maintain the online panels usually don’t share their panel members’ contact information. This channel is particularly good for collecting opinions. At PARC, we used this channel to track local citizens’ reactions to the new dynamic parking pricing system implemented in downtown Los Angeles.

9. Craigslist: Craigslist is another low-cost method for your research team to recruit research participants. Posting an ad on Craigslist is free, but the audience size is limited. Further, there is an increasing number of “professional research participants” on Craigslist who make a living being research participants, which might call into question the validity of the information they provide. As a result, many companies have stopped recruiting research participants from Craigslist.

You Get What You Pay For

While it is not possible to design a reliable algorithm to select the ideal market research technique to suit every situation, two decision rules can help product and service designers. If the primary research product is general in nature, for example information about the lifestyle choices of respondents, then researchers should select from the lowest-cost techniques. Such general information is the least subject to bias from sample variability. In all other cases, our guidance is that teams should balance cost, speed, and quality according to their project parameters. In research as with so much in life: you get what you pay for!

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