What does “wasting” respondents mean? It could mean dumbing down recruitment screeners to hit a certain incidence level for budget reasons and the resulting opportunity cost of an imprecise recruit. It could also mean investing the time to find on-target respondents, but not spending sufficient time with them to go beyond surface responses. These two are inextricably linked because to extract the full value from each respondent and make it worth spending significant time with each one, it requires the investment of time up front to ensure rigorous recruiting criteria, and if necessary, additional live pre-screening before the research.
Many people tend to think of recruiting for qualitative research like this: I write a screener that identifies people who qualify as my brand target, get those people in a focus group room, and ask questions for an hour. However, there are some important considerations for maximizing the value of each and every respondent that are somewhat counter to these traditional assumptions.
First, let’s look at the importance of the screener for qualitative research. In some cases, recruiting your brand target may be perfectly appropriate. Adding further designations for non-users, lapsed users, and brand or category rejecters or loyalists may also be helpful. Here’s the important point: qualitative recruiting, by its very nature, is not meant to be nationally representative (that’s what quant is for). Qualitative research is your opportunity to find the leading edge, the trendsetters, the extreme users, the inspirational target, people who absolutely love your product, and people who absolutely hate your product. Don’t be afraid to use the ends of the scale as criteria! Will it decrease your incidence and drive up costs? Probably so. Will you maximize every consumer interaction because you have something unique to learn from each person (and therefore can recruit fewer respondents overall)? Absolutely!
Next let’s look at the value of time spent with each respondent. If you’ve taken the time to do the perfect recruit and find the exact few consumers you want to talk to, why limit your time to an hour or two in a facility room? Furthermore, why limit it to a single interaction or a single location? To extract the full learning value from each and every respondent and gain the opportunity to deeply understand their life context, consider multiple interactions over time. Depending on the objective, this could range from a day-in-the-life ethnography session or an “expert panel” where you engage with a select group of respondents once a week for several months to iterate or co-create. If you’re doing a longitudinal interaction, think about how you can keep people engaged between discussions—invite them to participate in an on-line community, write in a journal or blog, or contribute to a Pinterest page on the topic, etc.
To sum up, not “wasting respondents” means doing more precise and high quality recruiting to find the best possible respondents for your objective as well as designing in the right interactions and time frames to reveal deeper levels of learning from each person.
 Incidence Level: percentage of the population who meet your pre-defined set of characteristics (for example, the incidence of English speakers in the US is 82.1%, according to the CIA World Factbook).