Getting Personal With Research Participants: An ROI Essential For Every Strategic Journey

I recall the days when all i did was hop from one focus group to the next, churn out reports and move on to my next recruiter management task to start all over again.  It was a pleasure to branch out in to more ethnographic work but remember feeling an even stronger burden with the recruiting process:  nobody wants to show up at a particpants home with client in tow and have them not be utterly iconic of the “target” you were intending.  But all that work ferreting out qualified particpants was so time consuming and stressful.  Lots of lost sleep and agony went into a job well done.

As my consumer anthropology expertise has evolved and gone deeper, I have realized more and more the importance of a great recruit when conducting ANY kind of qualitative research:  from focus group to ethnographic journey and everything in between.  I have also realized why it’s important to keep your own skin in the game…no matter how senior your role or how many years you have been doing research.   I think very often senior team members leave recruiting tasks to the exclusive oversight of recruit facilities or junior staff members, thinking (in error) that it is a more menial and due-dilligence kind of activity.

I will admit that there was a point in time when I held a full time director role at a research-based company and felt a sense of entitlement to “pawn off” recruiting on junior team members.  I was grateful for the time to focus on designing research tools and anlyzing work and felt entitled to a little less time in the trenches.

I lost my way along that particular path.  I still found fieldwork rewarding but recall feeling I would have gotten more insight out of the experience had Ispent the time getting to know my participants via the recruiting process beforehand.  With a recent project, i have spent a considerable amount of time screening and re-screening a very specific and hard-to-find set of participants that I am about to head into field with.  I am glad I  did as well, because the recruit spreadsheets only tell you so much…and without having done a deep dive I may very well have missed the mark.  That being said, I think my partner on this journey and I will have a very happy client and we will find some truly game-changing insights.

I know that this is not an epiphany for most seasoned market researchers, but it is an important meditation for this Sherpa.  In a consulting practice where time is divided between strategic work, meta analysis and fieldwork, it is really important to prioritize the fieldwork piece. It is the one opportunity as a consultant that I have to truly understand human and cultural insights from a level that forces empathy and contributes to intuition.

Only through human interaction can you truly identify and validate relevant patterns that affect our world and our client’s business.  You can’t rely on reading and discourse with peers to make truly insightful connections.  It’s why we make our clients get away from their desks and participate in fieldwork, and why every consultant that works in brand strategy should make a point to make it part of their regimen….like exercise and vitamins and 5 o clock cocktails.  😉  All these things keep us human…an essential to being a successful Sherpa.


2 responses to “Getting Personal With Research Participants: An ROI Essential For Every Strategic Journey

  1. This is an awesome insight!!! It also reinforces one of my key thoughts: that you need multiple points of view to maximize output from consumer work. We are each “programmed” via the experiences that we have, and by having a good mix of backgrounds involved in your consumer interaction, you can take advantage of the multiple experiences of the team…and increase the likelihood that one of your team will have an intimate connection with the experiences of the interviewee.


  2. Nice article. As a researcher who now works mainly in qualitative recruitment, it is always pleasing to see `seasoned` researchers valuing the field stage of their project work. Too often these days senior researchers operate at arm`s length via project managers and junior researchers. Consequently they lose touch with the realities of recruiting research participants in the 2000s. Mike

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