Are You Cutting Corners on Sample Quality?


LOS ANGELES, February 13, 2016 — A tale about how cheaper might not always be better.

The other day I had a headache, so I went down to Long Beach Harbor in Californiaand waited at the docks for a boat from China to unload palettes of acetaminophen.


Once unloaded, I took out a spoon and scooped some of the powder out and ate it on the spot. It didn’t yet have that tasty sweet coating that makes the pills palatable. I think I might have taken too much as it actually made me feel a little ill. But it was super cheap and it kind of did the job, with some lingering after effects. So it’s all good, right? 

Okay, so no one would ever actually do that. Would consumers really buy raw materials right off the dock without any quality controls, processing, packaging or brand to stand behind the product?

If you conduct market research surveys on behalf of your clients, then you must stand behind the results. At a minimum, you need to be able to point to a legitimate source of your sample supply in case something goes wrong. Over and over, I’ve seen clients go straight for the cheapest suppliers, and now more recently, go right to the raw materials.

Are you experienced enough to turn the raw materials into validated survey respondents? What is a validated survey respondent anyway? If you don’t know, I’m hoping this article will help explain the value of an experienced sampling provider of audiences for market research, not just a supplier of raw traffic. There’s an art and a science to turning traffic into respondents, and respondents into a panel. In my opinion, a database of people is not a panel.

So when does traffic and a database become a panel? The answer is multi-faceted and starts at the time the user registers to be inserted into a database. Here are some things to think about:


Validated Screened Respondents:

Do the respondents taking my survey really care about being honest, or are they racing towards a reward? Utilizing raw traffic from websites that aren’t experienced in validating a true respondent is usually a recipe for disaster. Garbage In, Garbage Out is what you’ll face when you go to analyze your survey data.

When you’re buying sample, what are you really getting? Part of what you’re getting, hopefully, are validated and heavily screened respondents who are interested in providing you with good, honest feedback. At a minimum your provider has enabled numerous mechanisms to catch and trap bad behavior long before it hits your survey. Want more detail around screening? Ask me!

Experienced Sampling Project Manager:

How does a sample company get validated respondents? It’s not just about sending out emails to a list. Understanding your specific goals and objectives requires experienced sampling project managers. You’ve probably already experienced the differences between good and bad project managers, and regardless of how good a panel is, a project manager can really mess up your data quality. Experience is hard to come by and it takes years of training and education to be skilled enough to “wow” clients.

Human Touch:

Successful projects usually require human touch and human intervention, even if those conducting the survey are using tools and technology to make their jobs more efficient. It’s easy to think about the cost of sample strictly as “How much will the respondent be paid?” but there are true fixed costs in hiring the best and brightest sampling managers in the market research industry. These are the people who know “how to sample” and to ensure quality delivery from start to finish. While I’ve always been a proponent of programmatic sampling, whoever is the buyer of the sample will still need to set rules to ensure sample is delivered exactly to plan. In other words, automated is only as good as the human who sets up the automation plan.

If Tylenol doesn’t ensure strict guidelines for the production of their acetaminophen pills, people can die. No one going to die because of a poor sample plan. However, if you want repeat business from your client, don’t ignore the differences between a company that delivers quality and one that delivers cheap.

If your sample company can’t adequately tell you how to manage a sampling plan to achieve your expected outcome, don’t ignore all the warning signs just because they’re the cheapest. Cheap usually means you’re buying the raw materials, and no one has spent the time or money to scrub that material to create the higher quality product: a real panel of authenticated respondents. Sometimes cheap becomes expensive, or much worse, costs you your best client.


About Matt Dusig:

Matt Dusig is a serial entrepreneur and has co-founded three pioneering digital sampling firms since 1999: goZing, uSamp/Instantly and most recently, Innovate. Matt’s technical know-how and business experience help drive his companies. Matt envisions the ideal market research world where every consumer has a positive experience with research surveys, thereby expanding the universe of people willing to participate in surveys. Connect with Matt on: LinkedIn or Twitter.