There’s a scene in the movie Up in the Air where Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) protégé, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), has just been dumped by her boyfriend. Ryan and his road girlfriend, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), are in the bar listening to her tale of woe. She starts to talk about her plan for happiness, how she’d had everything figured out. And she listed what she was looking for in a mate. I can’t find a clip of this scene, and I don’t remember her list verbatim, but it went something like this. He has to be 2-5 years older than I am, the oldest of 2-3 siblings at least one of whom is a sister, 4-5 inches taller than I am (I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m thinking that the incidence on this is getting pretty darn low), graduate of an ivy league school, employed in a white collar job with a clear path to the top, and have a one-syllable name (although she compromised here because her boyfriend’s name was Brian). They’d met in college, and since he mostly fit her criteria, she turned down a job offer in San Francisco to move with him to Nebraska.

I thought to myself as I watched Ryan and Alex try not to shake their heads and roll their eyes while they were listening to this, “Is this what I look like when clients call and run down the list of qualifications they are looking for in a participant? And are clients as off the mark as Natalie?” Do research users spend all this time and effort (not to mention money) and get results or do they end up on the wrong end of a Dear John text message?

Low incident studies aren’t just costly monetarily speaking, they cost our industry because they burn out our respondents. Are they worth it?


I've struggled with this scenario for as long as I've been in the Industry (18 years). It DOES seem as if it's gotten worse in the last five to eight years though.

Are they worth it? Yes, because the client is willing to spend their marketing dollars to target that specific type person and so as a partner in their efforts we need to assist. This is where potentially leveraging the power of a well-profiled panel can come into play. No panel is going to have data points on every characteristic a client wants, but it can help not having to burn through so many panelists.

Additionally, a well placed "instant survey" done a week or so before actual field asking one or two questions of a large cross-section of the panel can help with gathering info on those questions too specific to the client. No respondents are disqualified and you're spotting those who will.

It's not always this easy and we don't always have the advantage of having a couple weeks before field to get this done, but it might help.

In essence you now have two studies. One with maybe n=20,000 at 100% incidence (pre-identifying) and one n=300 at 40% incidence (guessing), but you deliver what the client needs AND maintain some dignity with your panelists.

- Brian LoCicero 02/05/2010

Photo credit:  St. Petersburg by Dima Bushkov