The Power of Anonymity – Why Market Researchers Get Answers Others Can’t

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre, on

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Critic as an Artist

Guaranteeing anonymity for market research participants is an essential component of establishing rapport, building trust, and creating an environment where respondents feel comfortable participating fully and candidly.

Professional market research firms are diligent about safeguarding respondents’ identities and protecting their anonymity. In many cases they belong to professional associations that require them to adhere to strict codes of ethics and conduct, including the protection of respondent privacy, confidentiality and anonymity; but whether required to do so or not, the benefits for clients of working with researchers who can guarantee these things to respondents are many.

Most importantly perhaps is that respondents are more forthcoming when they know their individual responses are only being revealed to an independent, professional, third party. This means that there are questions a market research professional can ask (and get answered) that others simply can’t.

The Importance of Trust

I am constantly amazed at what people will reveal about themselves in qualitative research. The fact that focus group participants and one-on-one interviewees are so forthcoming speaks to the power of creating a safe forum for the exchange of opinions. Part of this is being able to reassure participants that their responses will not be attributed back to them. Especially in cases where the topic is sensitive (e.g. employment situations, spending habits, diet or medical conditions and use of medications), an independent third party, who takes the time to establish credibility, build rapport and set up an environment of trust, can surface remarkable amounts of information.

Opting In: Choosing To Be Identified

The data generated by quantitative methodologies are generally not linked back to individual respondents’ personal information, simply because the purpose of most quantitative studies is to uncover patterns, decipher broad trends, and determine in aggregate what target audiences do, need and want. Many researchers work with privacy policies that explicitly state that responses are only being reported in aggregate with those of other participants in the study.

But what about those instances when knowing who said what can be helpful? If a respondent would like to receive a personal response to a comment or provide a testimonial, for example, they may elect to identify themselves. In these cases, it is important for the market researcher to assure respondents that only the information they have provided permission to share will be revealed to the end client.

Integrity and Candour are Critical to Good Outcomes

Whether the study is quantitative or qualitative, protecting respondent confidentiality and anonymity create candid responses, which in turn can lead to more insightful research findings. p>

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Cathy Whitehead McIntyre

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre, Principal of Strategic Initiatives Inc, is a marketing research consultant specializing in qualitative research. She was one of the first in Canada to use online qualitative methodologies.

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