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Ideal, average and outliers… selecting market research study participants

January 28, 2013

This post by Seth Godin speaks to the need to consider the experiences of the right types of people when making marketing and other types of decisions. He divides individuals into these three categories:

  • Ideal
  • Average
  • Outlier

These are useful categories to consider when designing a market research project.

Most qualitative market research projects strive to recruit average participants assuming that their opinions and experiences represent the largest number of users of a product or service. I believe that most of the time this is an effective approach.

However, at certain times I have sought out more ideal participants. For example, interviewing thought leaders sometimes helps to predict future trends. This post describes some important things to consider when conducting this type of research. Also, recruiting a small segment of ideal users in usability testing allows me to compare their usability experiences to those of more average users.

I do not recall a time that I intentionally recruited outliers for a study. However, occasionally they show up accidentally, due to the vagaries of the recruitment process. Most of the time I dismiss these participants when it becomes clear that they are not representative of the average. However, I recall completing some interviews with outliers that provided interesting contrast to the practices of the other participants and helped my clients to understand the perspective of their fringe customers.

Bottom line, there are no rigid rules governing how to populate a study except to select the mix of participants that best fulfill the research objectives.

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