Why Is My Market Research Participation Such A Big Secret?

Being selected to take part in a qualitative market research event (such as a focus group or in-depth interview) can often feel like quite an achievement in the first place - finally passing through screening surveys and interviews, and going forward to the interesting face-to-face part of the research, the part you actually get paid for! Of course it may have taken may attempts to get this far, and finally find the right research event for you.

When you get to the event you often find yourself taking part in exercises and activities that seem only peripherally related to the product or service in hand any way - how can it possibly be helpful to the researchers for me to colour in pictures or imagine personalities for brands? And then it can be very confusing when they tell you afterwards, that everything you have seen or discussed is confidential. I mean, who cares whether you thought Brand X was more like an orange, whereas Brand Y made you think of a banana!

But the thing is to the clients paying for the research, the marketing director of Brand Y, that insight is not only incredibly valuable, it's also highly sensitive. They might have a huge brand definition problem, or they might be trying to reposition themselves, or be about to launch a new product range. They could be investing in a massive advertising campaign, that you get to see different executions of during the research - how you respond to those ads is vital intelligence to help them decide how to proceed. So this is why the whole thing can get a bit intense about the secrecy, and you will be asked not to talk about the specifics of what you saw and heard in the research session.

Depending on what exactly you are going to be shown, you may also be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement - this is particularly common in research for technology companies, whose new directions could be very secret indeed, as they try to stay one step ahead of their competitors in a crowded marketplace. You also get it in very trend-led markets such as car design or fashion, industries that depend on a big 'reveal' of their latest launch, when they decide that the time is right.

If you are being asked to sign a legally binding agreement you should always be given the time to read and understand it, especially as the language is often a bit complex and demanding. It's often difficult to make time for this in a tightly-scheduled research interview or focus group, so typically your recruiter will send the agreement to you in advance, so that you have a chance to print it out and have a good read through, making sure that you understand exactly what the requirements are and what is expected of you.

Other times the whole issue will be dealt with via the wording on the sign-in sheet when you arrive at the research, and are registering to receive your incentive payment. Again even if it's brief, you need to make time to read through it properly and be sure you are comfortable with what you are agreeing to - however keen you are to get signed in and get your payment! You are signing your name to it as an agreement, and you will also find confidentiality clauses there which protect *you* - so check it out carefully.

It's all there simply to protect the commercially-sensitive context of what you are doing in the research, and it's absolutely fine to say that you took part in a focus group or interview, and the kinds of activities you did. All you need to remember is that anything you were told or shown that is not yet in the public domain needs to stay that way, for the time being. Then when they finally launch that new application or advert, you can safely and proudly say, 'I helped with that'!

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