In-Person Market Research Isn't Dead - Here's How to Modify for Social Distance

two men with masks hitting elbows instead of shaking hands

COVID-19 has impacted every industry, including market research.

While there are many benefits to doing virtual research, some projects still require in-person participation to meet requirements. 

The marketing world never stops, even during a pandemic. In fact, studies have shown that client-agency contact rose by 35% during the peak of COVID in 2020.

This case study outlines the steps of a recent automotive recruitment project for in-person research following COVID-19 protocols. 

For more information on this topic, check out our post on in-person market research throughout the pandemic. 

Step 1: Learning the Project

Our market research firm scheduled a 30-minute call with the client to discuss objectives and desired outcomes. 

No matter the specific needs of a client, branding typically plays a key role in their list of goals.

The client needs specific data to better understand their brand and how to promote it.

We used a client-provided screener for this recruitment project on automotive maintenance products.

To find qualified participants, we followed the below criteria: 

  • Must own or lease a vehicle 
  • Recruit a mix of vehicle ages
  • Purchased automotive products in the last 6 months 
  • Purchased a mix of automotive maintenance products such as:
    • Power steering products
    • Engine systems cleaners
    • Differential oil
    • Air conditioning refrigerant
    • Degreaser
    • Lubricants (i.e., WD40)
    • Fuel additives or treatments
    • Oil additives
    • Transmission products
    • Brake products
  • Purchased automotive products at a qualified retailer 
  • Completed a mix of vehicle maintenance jobs such as: 
    • Used an additive in gas (i.e., injector cleaner, gas treatment, octane booster)
    • Used an additive in oil (i.e., oil stabilizer, oil treatment)
    • Done work on brakes myself (i.e., rotors, brake pads)
    • Done work on transmission
    • Done work on radiator
  • Purchased an automotive maintenance product in the last year
  • Articulation screen 
  • Mix of demographics

COVID-19 Protocols 

Not only did we need to find participants with the above criteria, but in order to meet current COVID-19 guidelines, each participant in the project had to adhere to safety instructions.

The COVID-19 guidelines were that participants either...

  • Showed proof of their vaccination status 
  • Had a negative COVID-19 test from within 48 hours of the in-person research interview 

To remain compliant with evolving COVID-19 mandates, we consistently monitored any changes throughout the recruitment project to communicate that to participants as soon as possible. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Conducting in-person research during the pandemic is different, but certainly not dead. We successfully conducted this study by requiring vaccine proof or a negative COVID test. 

Step 2: Finding the Participants

The first step in finding qualified participants for recruitment projects in the market research process is to program the pre-screener. 

Once the recruitment screener has been programmed, we launch a targeted ad campaign using social media to reach contacts. 

To ensure that participants were comfortable with the COVID-19 requirement, we asked their willingness to provide us with this information during the pre-screener.

💡 The Key Takeaway: A pre-screener is always included in qualitative market research. However, specifically for in-person market research during the pandemic, it is important to include questions that determine comfortability with our research process.

Recommended Reading: 6 Market Research Participant Red Flags to Look for in Qualitative Recruiting

Step 3: Re-Screening Participants

When it comes to recruiting participants for qualitative research, Drive Research does not follow a first come first serve approach. We pick the best of the best from a pool of qualified candidates for each research project. 

Our multi-step approach to recruitment results in a higher quality participant and higher completion rate.

With the extra validation of a re-screening phone call, we are able to confirm that participants not only qualify but are able to freely speak and share their ideas with an articulation screen. 

Additionally, Drive Research adjusts our articulation screening question for each in-person market research project. 

Considering that this project was based on automotive products and vehicle maintenance jobs, we used the following question: 

“Tell us about the maintenance and repair jobs you have done on your car (i.e., brakes, transmission, radiator) as well as what you do to help maintain your car (i.e., oil changes, fuel, and oil additives). Why do you choose to do these jobs yourself?”

During the re-screening call, we made sure participants understood and were willing to provide us with the required information to meet COVID-19 mandates. 

We also communicated the other steps being taken to ensure health and safety:

  • The interview was one-on-one in a large room
  • Both the moderator and participant wore a mask at all times 
  • Practiced social distancing by maintaining at least 6-feet apart 
  • Sanitized the room in-between each interview 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Open communication goes a long way, especially now. Our re-screening call included making sure participants were aware of the COVID-19 guidelines we required.

Step 4: Sending Confirmations

Once participants were scheduled for the research project, our confirmation process began. 

First, we provided participants with a customized confirmation email with a required “yes” response. 

In this email, we gave them the date, time, and location of the research project. 

Additionally, our qualitative recruiting company included a reminder of the safety precautions being taken and the requirement to show their proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test. 

If participants did not respond yes to the confirmation email, we placed a phone call to discuss any concerns and again asked them to respond yes to the confirmation email to confirm their commitment. 

The day before the interview, we placed phone calls with our best efforts on a live response to remind them of the day and time, location, and safety protocols.

On the day of the interview, we sent participants a text message with key highlights such as:

  • Location of the interview
  • Day and time of the interview 
  • A reminder of the COVID-19 protocol

This thorough follow-up not only helped keep participants engaged but also let them know they have a point of contact for any concerns or questions they may have leading up to the interview.

Using 3 methods of contact (email, calls, and texts) is our practice so that participants can respond to whichever method they find best for them. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Never underestimate the power of precision when confirming research practices. We used 3 methods of contact to ensure participants were aware of our requirements. 

Step 5: Conducting the In-Person Market Research Interviews

Client-moderated in-person research interviews were conducted over a two-day period at their location in Auburn, New York. 

Though none of the Drive Research team was on-site, we stayed in continuous contact with our client and participants to ensure the project continued to run smoothly. 

In total, we recruited 11 participants for 8 completed interviews. All participants followed the requirement to show their proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test result. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Through ongoing, clear communication, we were able to produce a successful study during the pandemic. Safety and transparency were the key factors in making this study a success. 

Contact Our Market Research Company

While virtual research has many benefits, we understand that your custom market research project may need an in-person participant. Our team at Drive Research is experienced with recruiting participants in all types of circumstances - COVID-19 included. 

Have a requirement for in-person research? Contact us using the information below. 

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Ashley Reynolds

With nearly 10 years of experience in market research, Ashley has worked on countless quantitative and qualitative research studies. As a Fieldwork Manager at Drive Research, she’s involved in every stage of the project, especially recruitment.

Learn more about Ashley, here.

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