So, You Want To Build A Panel? Read This Before You Do!

By Angela Burtch – Vice President

We’ve been developing market research panels for the past 20 years in industries ranging from telecommunications, engineering, and travel/hospitality.  Both consumer and B2B.

So, what exactly is a panel?  A market research panel is most simply a group of people recruited to participate in both quantitative and qualitative research. The panelists are typically pre-screened and are profiled so that you have a pool of respondents that are highly qualified and ready to provide feedback on future research studies. They can be branded (i.e., respondents are aware of the company that is sponsoring the research), or unbranded (i.e., a research company (like Merrill Research) creates the panel and respondents aren’t aware of the sponsor).  There are advantages for both:

  1. Unbranded panels allow you to conduct research without biasing the respondent to the panel creator. These are excellent for studies such as ad or brand awareness, where you don’t want participants to be aware of your brand.
  2. Branded panels tend to have a higher response rate because respondents can associate research requests with a brand that they have some familiarity or affinity with.

So, why build a panel?  Here are several benefits:

  1. Quality data from a pool of opted-in respondents.
  2. Shorter field time (no need to look for qualified respondents and deployment can be as short as the same day).
  3. And cost. Yes, cost.  Although there are upfront costs with establishing a panel—including software platform, programming, and list purchase (if not from a customer database)—the long-term benefit from using a panel instead of renting costly lists for each study is well-worth the investment.
  4. Panels are most effective if you plan to conduct a minimum of 4-12 research studies per year. This keeps panelists engaged and provides an ROI on panel development.

Here a few tips to consider when building a panel and to avoid “glitches” and collect the very highest quality data:

  1. Determine the source of respondents from which you are going to “pull your sample”. If using customer databases, ensure that you are compliant with all privacy issues (i.e., sharing of Personal Identifying Information (PII)).  If renting or purchasing respondent sample, make sure you do your research! Not all sample providers will allow you to retain the recruits for your panel.
  2. Keep the profiling questionnaire short and sweet and limit those key variables that will help you most efficiently target respondents for future studies. If you add questions in future research studies, you can always append this new information to your profiling database. Just have a plan in place for flagging those questions of interest and have a mechanism for adding them to the panel database.
  3. Offer an incentive for joining. No one wants a respondent who is participating in research for the sole reason that they’ll be compensated, but consider an initial reward for joining.  If developing an international panel, make sure that you are aware of the rules and regulations for offering incentives or sweepstakes in that particular country.  Also, make sure that your incentive is appropriate for the country.  For example, some gift cards may be attractive in the United States, but not viable for incentives in China unless the gift card was purchased in China. Incentives aren’t the be-all-and-end-all.  People also like to join panels to share their opinion and be involved in product or communications development.  Explaining their role in shaping products or services is important.  This is especially true for enticing Millennials.
  4. Use a double opt-in process for recruiting panelists. Quite simply, this means that once a respondent completes the panel profile survey, they are sent an email in order to verify that they would like to join. This avoids any confusion regarding their acceptance to join a research panel and ascertains that you are corresponding with an interested participant.
  5. Always thank your new panelists for joining with a confirmation WELCOME email that includes all key contacts for the panel, opt-out instructions, and instructions to “whitelist” the email address from which the respondent can expect to receive invites to other studies. Nothing kills a panel quicker than invites going to spam.

In summary, panels can be a time and money saver, assuming you’re conducting significant research among similar targets. Do you think you could benefit from a partner to help you build panel?  If so, visit merrillresearch.com.

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