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Focus Groups, Surveys, Paid Studies, Oh My!

This article is a guest post by Amanda Brown – Amanda is the Panel Manager at 20|20 Research, and  a passionate advocate for all panelists in the consumer feedback industry.

Let’s just put it out there. It’s hard enough to search and find a matching sock in your sock drawer, filter through the ingredients of a product, or decide on paper or plastic; let alone sift through surveys for cash and focus group companies to identify one that is legit and how they work. But, the world of consumer opinion research is confusing, right? Providing personal information, without knowing why you are providing it, can be scary and makes you question why?

I get it…

As someone who works as an advocate for panelists and participants in the industry, I see the confusion, the disappointment, the reluctance; and it is completely understandable and valid. I can also say that the majority of the time, it’s due to misinformation or misunderstanding and not having clear expectations about the experience. Hopefully, the following information helps to clear up some things; allowing you to move forward with confidence and restored faith in the industry.

First, let’s breakdown some definitions of the Market Research world:

  1. Qualitative Research (the why ) obtaining detailed data from a segment of the population to provide a measure of why that segment thinks, feels or behaves in a certain way.a. Examples:
    i. Online Paid Studies/Focus Groups
    ii. In Person Paid Studies/Focus Groups
    iii. Telephone interviews
  2. Quantitative Research (the how many ) obtaining
    data to provide a measure of how
    many people/consumers think, feel or behave in a certain way.
    b. Examples:
    i. Surveys for Cash/Points
    ii. Quick Polls

Because of the end goal of each form of research, or what each form of research is trying to identify, they use different methods.

The quantitative side is very clear cut. A firm on the quantitative side might be looking for how many moms in the midwest, are married, have a household income of $50K+, have never bought greek yogurt and only buy organic yogurt; and the train stops there. No additional data is needed. Some of the quantitative panel companies, like Toluna, ERewards,or Opinion Outpost pay in points that can be converted into gift cards or actual cash for those that participate in their surveys or polls. The qualitative side, on the other hand, is looking deeper into things with a much more involved process.

Qualitative research wants to know why a mom in the midwest, who is married, and has a household income of $50K+ and has never bought greek yogurt chooses to buy organic yogurt. Does it have to do with the ingredients? Does it have to do with her and her family’s lifestyle?

Perhaps her religion? Her children’s allergies? What drives her consumer behavior? This is precisely why qualitative firms ask for so much information and still must ask their panelists to take a prequalifying survey before accepting them into one of their client’s paid studies.

In qualitative research, client’s are hiring market research firms to find a very niche segment of the consumer population. So, qualitative firms find as much information they can on their panelists upfront. When someone registers to be a panelist, they create a “profile” by answering several, fairly basic, questions (age, gender, income, etc). Then, because the profile is limited to what it reveals, firms must send the potential panel candidates (those that fit the basic qualifications like gender, age, location, etc) a prequalifying survey, to learn the unknown. These prequalifying surveys provide more intricate details (unknown at this point) to identify if the preidentified panelists will qualify for that very segmented consumer profile. Let’s go further into what this process looks like:

Below is an actual “screener” or organized information on the desired participant, provided to a qualitative market research firm from a client:


As you can see, the client is looking for very detailed information about the panelists. From what is known from the registration profiles, firms can narrow down and identify potential candidates for studies by the first few basic attributes (women, age group, have cable or satellite TV, income, location, etc). Then the prequalifying surveys must be sent out to find the rest of the unknown information needed. That information will then tell a firm who and who does not fit into a study. It is imperative for panelists to update their profile information every couple months so that their information is fresh and complete. Qualitative firms add questions from time to time to their profile surveys as trends in the industry arise and clients request new information on participants. Two very reputable qualitative research firms are 20|20 Research and Focus Pointe Global Research.

You’re probably wondering, “OK great, I understand the processes better, but how do I know who is legit?”

One great indicator to whether a company (quantitative or qualitative) is actually legit or not is to go to their Facebook page. Find out what others, like yourself, who have worked and participated with them are saying, read the reviews. Look at what the majority are saying (not just a few unhappy peeps). Then, find out whether they are a member of CASRO. CASRO is the “Voice and Values” of the market research industry. All CASRO members must adhere to the CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics, the enforceable standard for research businesses for more than 30 years.

Here is the link to their Code:

If you don’t see that the company is a member of CASRO you can check here:

If you don’t see them, I highly suggest you do further research or steer clear of them. But I will say, if you don’t see that the company is a member, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t, it could be that they are listed under their parent company, so you may want to pay close attention to the panel’s name and sponsoring company.

Having the proper knowledge and the right expectation going into any experience in general is fundamental and key. The same goes for those wishing to participate in surveys for cash (quantitative research) and paid focus groups/studies (qualitative research). Understanding quantitative and qualitative research and how these different companies within market research operate, begets a better, clearer expectation for those going forth into the panelist/participant experience. Remember, just because you love and eat yogurt, does not necessarily mean you will be the right candidate for a study regarding yogurt. There is a lot more behind the scenes information that plays into whether you fit or not.

Let’s face it folks, not being able to find matching socks is enough disappointment for one day. No need to add to it with the muddled ideas and expectations about participating in surveys for cash and focus groups. Participating in consumer opinion research should be fun, not confusing and disappointing! Being a panelist and participating is a great way to make your voice heard, influence the decisions that impact your favorite brands and products, and you can also make a few bucks along the way! So go forth into the consumer research world with your new found knowledge and expectations with confidence and have some fun! Good Luck!

Amanda Brown is the Panel Manager at 20|20 Research and is a passionate advocate for all panelists in the consumer feedback industry.

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