My Life as a Guinea Pig

I have been a guinea pig for three years now. As a participant in market research, I’m the test subject for products from all kinds of companies: gum, soda, makeup. Some of the brand names you see on the shelves were tried and critiqued by yours truly.

A lot of information about my demographic, my preferences and my everyday life has been given to companies, which was a little scary at first. I’ve learned to trust that my information is secure though, at least with websites that have strong security settings.

I first started market research when I was a junior in high school. My grandmother was influential in my decision. She has been a test subject for more than 15 years for a type of medicine. She won’t ever know whether she’s been on a placebo or the real pill, but she’s been dutifully taking them each morning and reporting back to the pharmaceutical company periodically. Each time the company sends her a new package of pills, she receives a small compensation for her work as a market research participant. Excited to earn a few extra dollars, I quickly found websites that would pay me to try new things.

The product arrives in generic packaging, without full nutrition labels or logos from the company. Sometimes I’m not even allowed to know which company has sent the product. The package comes with instructions on how to use the product, how often to use it and where to use it. When I’ve finished using it, the company sends me a survey to explain what I thought of the product and how it could be improved. This is one way that companies decide where to sell their products – from which states to sell in, to what shelves to stock.

The most exciting part of the experience is seeing the final product on the shelves. I guess market research really does work because I often go back and buy the products I’ve tested.

As a professional writing major, participating in market research has opened my eyes to how frequently the writing skills I’m learning are used by businesses. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing various styles of surveys and instructions for products, and my writing style has improved from being exposed to business writing. Every question is carefully worded so that the company can get the most informative results. I feel like I’m giving back to the companies that provide me with high-quality products.

While it’s an exciting experience, I wouldn’t recommend signing up for market research opportunities without first doing some research of your own. Credible and safe websites exist, but they’re hidden among the scams and unsafe sites. The best ones I’ve used are owned by companies like The Nielsen Company, a large-scale market research company that businesses use to view demographics in an area. These demographics come from people’s purchases in each area and the survey results from those areas.

How I respond to surveys can make a difference. It amazes me that my opinions can impact the decisions of huge businesses, whether it’s how to improve a product before it’s released for mass distribution or where the new store will be in my neighborhood.