Qualitative Research

Beyond Demographics: Using Personality Theory to Recruit Great Research Respondents

Sarah Johnson

At its best, market research has the power to drive businesses forward by providing critical information about consumer opinion, beliefs, behavior and more. The right insights can inform major business decisions and even provide a competitive advantage. Sourcing essential information about improving existing products, ideas for new products or evaluating marketing campaigns are just a few of the ways market research provides crucial data about what consumers want and what their process is for making buying decisions. 

But hearing from the right mix of people is essential to providing high-quality insights that truly make a difference. Companies want to make sure they hear from current and potential customers to identify key motivators and barriers for both users and non-users. To this end, companies create recruiting quotas are established around target audience demographic and behavioral information. For example, the quota may call for people from specific income levels and age groups, and by frequency of product usage.

The reality is that recruiting for a focus group, an in-depth interview (IDI) or other qualitative research study based on these quotas doesn’t consider other important attributes that can really affect the discussion dynamic. Good qualitative research requires good discussion participants: people who are engaged, thoughtful and imaginative.  Focusing solely on target audience attributes can lead to a disproportionate number of unengaged participants, dull conversations, and ultimately, lackluster findings. Instead, some consideration should be given to finding people who will really contribute to the conversation.

Considerations for the Optimal Outcome

The optimal outcome is receiving detailed and actionable insight to share with your team. With that end in mind, sourcing the right participants is the first focus. Once that has been done, optimizing the experience for those participants to provide valuable information is next. 

Here we provide one consideration about how to get the right people in the room and the second for how to set the conversation and experience up for success to deliver the best and brightest ideas from your efforts.  

  1. Evaluate Personality

A helpful framework to use when considering the right personality mix for your market research study is the “The Big Five”. The Big Five personality traits is a grouping of five unique characteristics used to study personality.[1] It has been developed from the 1980s onward in psychological trait theory.

To find research participants with personality traits most conducive to sparking good conversations, consider the Venn Diagram below.  Participants who score highly on openness, agreeableness and extraversion are likely to be people who are original, creative, and conceptual, who show up with high energy and a propensity to play nicely with others.

This ideal cluster of traits is a great starting point, but should not be a cookie cutter solution. Each study is different and while it is helpful to always have people who are creative, high-energy and collaborative, specific purposes of the research should be considered. For example, for advertising evaluation you may want to be sure to not skew the group to being full of totally agreeable people. To hear contrasting opinions, other personality traits such as antagonism may be more helpful for insight discovery. Customizing the mix of the personalities in the room to encourage greater dialogue can be helpful in uncovering more than surface level thoughts and opinions of the group. 

Instead, consider making a custom approach to recruiting for each project based on what would create the best environment for maximizing outcomes. 

  1. Provide a Sense of Purpose

Regardless of personality, people want to be valued and feel that what they do matters. While many moderators do a great job of creating a sense of purpose, camaraderie and focus during sessions, what happens before the respondents reach that room (virtual or physical) matters greatly. When recruiting it’s important to understand that even the tone of the recruiter and screeners go a long way in providing an answer to the most basic question for a research participant, which is, “Why am I participating in this research?”

Igniting a sense of purpose is the best way to get participants to reflect and provide helpful answers and doing this right means going far beyond the incentive or financial reward for showing up. Part of the recruitment process primes people for optimal behavior when participating in the study. Participants need to be explicitly told the following: 

  • We’re looking for you to provide responses beyond simple “yes” or “no” answers. 
  • We encourage sharing your evaluation process outloud. 
  • Participants can take the time they need to gather their thoughts before sharing. 
  • Respectful debate with anything you disagree with is encouraged. 

Recruiters and screeners should mimic this desired behavior during the recruiting process. While it might not be possible to explain why certain screening questions are qualifying or disqualifying candidates for participation, an open dialogue about the nature of the experience is key to attracting the right participants through the process. 

The Power of the Right Market Research Respondent

Humans are complex and qualitative research strives to uncover parts of what is going on in their rich and varied experience. Qualitative research is an art and a science. While quotas for target audience attributes can help provide focus and get certain aspects of the science right, the art of finding participants who can contribute real insight to the conversation leads tobetter outcomes for brands. Truly the most useful part of market research is the dynamic responses from engaged participants to drive business forward in a meaningful way. Optimizing for that outcome makes all the difference.