As scientists and researchers, the lowly or lovely rat, depending on your perspective, has allowed us to research many things over the century. Rats have told us how live tissue responds to a variety of diseases and drugs. Rats have also taught us about concepts like positive reinforcement, punishment, socialization, team work, and much more. Rats have taught us so much that for a long time, we used the same vernacular in our research with human rats, or ‘subjects’ as we more kindly referred to them.
Over time, we realized that even that kind term wasn't as nice as what we’d been led to believe. The term ‘subjects’ still seemed to infer that humans were disposable live samples to be treated and mistreated however we desired. Clearly, treating our moms, granddads, and loved ones as subjects didn't feel right.
In recent years, we've worked hard to find words that more aptly described what we perceived the relationship between research and human subject to be. We sought words that focused more on the contributions our humans made, on the respect and trust we have in them, on the effort and passion they've gladly given us. We stumbled over words like responders, participants, consumers, and people, each one of them lacking in various ways to truly describe what really takes place.
But have we ever asked the human subject what they wanted to be called? I hazard a guess that for most people, the answer is no! Recently, I had the opportunity to do just that. I was able to simply ask a human subject what they wish to be called. And the answer was surprisingly simple.
“Call me your client.” Full stop.
That never occurred to me before.
But really, when you think about it, aren't people, responders, participants, humans, consumers really our clients? We conduct all this marketing research to provide better products and services for them. Which means, of course, that they are our clients. How did it take me decades to get to that answer? I really don’t know but at least now I have a good answer.
And on that note, perhaps I will pop into a #FOCI14 presentation by Kelley Peters, Neil Fleming, and Emily Stern of Post Foods when they discuss how consumers are people too.
Annie Pettit, PhD is the Chief Research Officer at Peanut Labs, a company specializing in self-serve panel sample Annie is a methodologist focused on data quality, listening research, and survey methods. She won Best Methodological Paper at Esomar 2013, and the 2011 AMA David K. Hardin Award. Annie tweets at @LoveStats and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.