How to Get Insight from Consumer Panel Surveys: 10 Tips

How to Get Insight from Consumer Panel Surveys: 10 Tips

Alongside focus groups and ad-hoc questionnaires, consumer panel surveys are a popular tool for businesses looking to gain insight into what their audiences – and consumers at large – are thinking.

Using pre-recruited and pre-screened groups (or panels) of respondents, consumer panel surveys have specific advantages over alternative consumer research methods. You can control your audience, for example, and return to the panel over time to collect data repeatedly from the same set of people. This lets you dig deep into highly targeted audiences – and, crucially, compare changes in attitude over time.

Yet, as with all research methods, to get real value from consumer panel surveys, you need to refine your technique. That’s why, in this article, we’re sharing 10 tips and best practices to get the most from your consumer panel surveys. We’re talking how to shrewdly recruit and screen respondents, how to ask questions that elicit authentic opinion, and how to use the right analytical methods to yield deep insight.

Note: Don’t forget, Pollfish has created a new consumer research methodology that works a little differently. One that fulfills the promise of consumer panel surveys, while keeping bad data to a minimum – and making access to deep insights easier and more efficient. 

Where to Start with Consumer Panel Surveys?

Consumer research can deliver highly valuable insight for your business. Whether you want to test how an ad campaign will land, or get feedback on a new product line, opinion from authentic consumers – and potential customers – can be priceless.

Yet, you can’t just go and fire questions around at random. This won’t tell you anything of value. Rather, thinking through who you are asking and why is crucial before you start. 

Here are three tips on how to get that done.

#1: Gain Clarity on Your Research Problem and Goal

We’re starting with the basics, yes. But a true understanding of what you want from your research is an essential element that too often goes overlooked, particularly by businesses conducting research themselves. If you want insights that have value for you, you need absolute clarity on your larger goals.

Do you want to boost sales, refine a specific product, or determine brand positioning? A robust research objective will help you sculpt questions that deliver sharper insights – and save you time asking questions that don’t deliver value.

#2: Refine Your Research’s Scope and Scale

Once armed with a research objective, you now need to assess the desired scale of your research. This can get a little complex – but it ultimately shapes the reliability of your research.

Of course, the ideal survey would consult 100% of your target population – whether that’s marketing graduates in Scotland or cyclists among your company staff. While this scale would yield data on which you can surely rely, this is usually not possible in practice. Even if your target population is very small.

However, the further from 100% of the population, the greater the likelihood of inaccuracy. What you need to decide as a business is what margin of error you can tolerate. If you are making high-stakes decisions, you want data you can trust – and the larger the sample size the better.

#3 Source and Speak to the Right People

For authentic insights that deliver value for you, speak to the right audience. You can’t take this for granted. Before you conduct any survey, you need to recruit respondents that suit your target demographic.

This is what screening questions are for. These filter out respondents who aren’t right for you. However, as our resident expert, Jim Theodoropoulos, notes, using screening questions can be difficult to get right. These need to be combined with demographic targeting to narrow in on your audience.

Using Pollfish, for example, if you are seeking mothers who are runners, you can use the “gender” and “number of children” filters, before asking a screening question about preferred exercise. Like this, you can access deeper insights into specific audiences – and keep the professional panelists to a minimum.

Asking Questions that Deliver Real Value

The way you ask questions – and the form in which you receive answers – affects the quality of your data. And avoiding bias and panel fatigue, for example, can make conducting consumer panel surveys a bit of a minefield.

This is why many businesses use options like Pollfish to help design the questions. But if you’re going it alone, below are some tips on how to ask good survey questions and get answers you can trust. 

Note: For more on this, check out our article on how to ask good survey questions.

#4 Ensure Neutrality

Bias is a bad look in consumer research. For surveys to yield data that is actually valuable, they need to tap into the authentic opinion of respondents. Not reflect the prejudices of the researchers. 

That means avoiding leading questions, those questions that direct respondents to specific answers. For example, “How would you rate our award-winning customer service?” has the potential to skew responses by including the qualifier “award-winning”. 

However, even “what problems do you see in our customer service?” distorts the insights you will receive – as it assumes problems, whereas none may have been seen by the respondent.

This also means providing multiple-choice responses that reflect the range of opinion. If “how would you rate our customer service?” is your neutral question, the possible responses need to achieve similar neutrality. “Extremely helpful / Helpful / Neither helpful or unhelpful / Unhelpful / Extremely unhelpful”, for example, keeps the balance between positive and negative options while keeping framing consistent.

#5 Use Strategies to Mitigate Panel Fatigue

During surveys, and particularly during panel surveys, it’s not unlikely that respondents will become bored or disengaged – even though they sign up to participate.

When respondents are asked too many questions, we call this panel fatigue. It’s one of the biggest downsides to consumer panel surveys. Respondents might lean on “don’t know” or they might start “straightlining” – where they choose the same response for every question.

To avoid this, change up your question formats and shuffle questions around. It boosts engagement. It ensures more trustworthy responses. And it ups your completion rate – making data more reliable overall.

#6 Be Specific – and Remember Your Research Goal

Every question in your survey should provide an insight into your audience’s opinions, attitudes, and behaviors. Those that are irrelevant or too vague are not going to deliver the insights you need to make effective business decisions.

In this way, if you are a gaming app, an open question like “what do you like to do in your downtime?” is not focused enough – and it doesn’t direct respondents’ thoughts to gaming. As such, it won’t provide data that will be of use to your research goal.

Understanding Insights from Consumer Panel Research

You’ve asked the questions. Now, you need to understand the responses. 

This will first mean collating recurring answers, identifying patterns, and highlighting anomalies – a process that can be hugely time-consuming if you are doing it alone. That’s why Pollfish, by the way, delivers automated analytics in real-time. More on that later.

Once you’ve arranged the data, you need to analyze it. Here’s how to get started.

#7 Compare Your Data to Larger Trends

Numbers, let’s remember, are all relative. And getting valuable insights from them is difficult when they are viewed in isolation.

Your survey tells you 80% of respondents said that they were happy with your customer service. But for this to be valuable to you, this needs to be put in context. How does this compare, for example, to other businesses of your size in your industry? Or to your results from last year?

Larger trends are your friends – and they help make sense of your customer panel survey. If this is your first survey of its kind, let these results be the benchmark from which you understand future developments. If you have numbers from previous surveys, use these to assess your progress.

#8 Cross-Tabulate – and Dig Deep

Similarly, when you are reading your results, the big picture isn’t always the most useful view.

Say that 65% of respondents in a general population survey said they found your new ad campaign funny or very funny. That might feel like a win. However, these numbers could be disguising insights of more specific value.

That’s what cross-tabulation is about. Using crosstabs can let you see how different data fields overlap – and this is an indispensable tool for analyzing your data. For example, maybe the ad landed much less effectively with women. Or the joke was completely lost on 21-30-year olds. 

This matters. There may be an insight you need to address. You just need to dig deeper to find it.

#9 Keep on Researching

In a world in which business competition is sharp, a single survey won’t do. As a result, there’s one tip that needs to be stressed: keep returning to your audience to do more research.

The unique value of consumer panel research is that going back and asking questions is easy. Your panelists are there, pre-recruited, ready, and willing to respond. Make use of them. There is really no such thing as too much data.

#10 Use Pollfish to Make Deeper Insights Easier

At Pollfish, we’ve moved beyond the traditional consumer panel survey. We’ve developed a research methodology that makes gathering insights into consumer opinion easier. It makes recruiting panelists and understanding insights faster, more cost-effective, and less labor-intensive, too. 

For example, our consumer research platform sources insights from over half a billion engaged consumers, connected via our network of 120,000 app providers. We screen every participant based on pre-collected demographic, biographic, and behavioral data – as well as your screening questions – to take the stress out of finding the right audience.

Pollfish makes setting research objectives and framing questions easier too. We give you some of the most common research goals and pre-crafted question templates to choose from. To keep bias to a minimum and ensure participant engagement, all you have to do is select.

Finally, analyzing data is easier with Pollfish, too. Our advanced data tools let you filter your findings in real-time. All admin is taken care of, so that you can dedicate yourself to visualizing your insights – and ultimately putting them to work.

Frequently asked questions

What is a consumer panel survey?

A consumer panel survey is a type of survey that is conducted at set intervals over a period of time with the same group of respondents. The time period can range from days to years.

Why are consumer panel surveys used?

With interviews conducted over a period of time, consumer panel surveys are ideal for understanding how the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors of people evolve over time.

What are the benefits of conducting a consumer panel survey?

One of the primary benefits of consumer panel surveys is that they can be used to gain deep insights about a highly targeted audience. In addition, individual surveys are easy to deploy because the respondents have already been identified.

How are screening questions used?

Screening questions are used to identify the appropriate audience or panel for a survey. Combined with demographic targeting, these questions can help identify the best audience for a survey.

What is panel fatigue?

Panel fatigue occurs when survey respondents become bored or disengaged from the survey process, resulting in mediocre or inaccurate data.

What is a Consumer Research Panel, and How Can it Help?

What is a Consumer Research Panel, and How Can it Help?

A consumer research panel is defined as a group of individuals brought together with the express purpose of providing opinions, insight and feedback on products and services. In simple terms, a consumer research panel is the participating audience in market research campaigns.

These panels are used in a wide variety of campaigns, including those on advertisement research, product testing, and other initiatives that require the input and insight of a target audience.

Panel members are selected to represent either a particular group or the general public, with panels made up of tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of people. Businesses can then segment the panels based on certain criteria and demographics to ensure they’re reaching the right audience with their questions.

Consumer Research Panels: Why Do They Matter?

Thanks to the internet and social media, sales channels are becoming increasingly saturated, with consumers bombarded by messages and offers morning, noon and night. With this in mind, businesses are now, more than ever, searching for marginal gains in order to outmaneuver the competition.

And while products and services can share price points and features, consumer research panels can help business owners understand a key intangible when it comes to standing out from the crowd: customer experience (CX).

For example, if your competitor is operating under the (false) assumption that their product or service is meeting their customers’ needs, quality consumer research can help you set your business apart and establish it as a market leader.

The goal of these panels is to actively listen to — and act upon — meaningful insights from your target audience. When you understand how your product or services makes them feel (good or bad), you can make the necessary adjustments to position your offering more effectively.

How is a Consumer Research Panel Put Together?

Consumer research panel participants are often recruited via online channels. Participants are then organized based on certain factors, such as gender, age, location, profession, and personal interests. The more information gleaned at the recruitment stage, the better, as it allows you to target an incredibly specific and targeted audience.

Usually, participation is incentivized – with panel members receiving rewards in exchange for their time and insight. Rewards can range from cash and gift cards to money-off vouchers and points, which can be redeemed against products or services.

Once a panel has been formed, research can be conducted. Questionnaires are sent to a select group of respondents designed for a particular target audience.

How Does it Differ From Other Types of Customer Research?

A consumer research panel gives you the opportunity to evolve your ideas, involving the same target group throughout for feedback on your iterations. This helps you ensure that you’re moving in the right direction as you make changes to your product, service, brand or message. 

Using a panel is, therefore, in stark contrast to focus groups or other one-off surveys. These tend to be “once-and-done” endeavors, where you receive feedback in isolation, based solely on what’s put in front of the group or survey recipients at the time. 

This can make actionable insights harder to come by, especially if you’re unable to reconvene the focus group or reach the same survey respondents to gauge their opinions on the changes you’ve made.

What Are the Benefits of Using an Online Consumer Research Panel?

Online consumer research panels allow you to efficiently connect with target market segments, collecting valuable feedback in the process. This method of research has the following benefits: 


  • Higher response rates from motivated respondents: Panel members are often highly motivated to respond as they’ve opted-in to take part in the research. This can result in a higher quality of feedback.
  • Current insights from a representative audience: When maintained properly, a consumer research panel offers an up-to-date picture of your audience’s thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Quicker and lower cost: Consumer panels can deliver faster insights at a lower cost when compared with other research methods – especially with focus groups, which require time and expenses to run, thus taking longer to coordinate and screen respondents.
  • Feedback can be implemented faster, too: The data received from online consumer panels can be analyzed quicker, with trends and patterns spotted and sorted with just a few clicks. This means that if there’s an overriding consensus that something isn’t working, you can change it quickly before it’s too late.
  • Anonymity means nothing’s off-limits: The online nature of a consumer research panel means you can freely ask questions regarding sensitive information, including sexual health and activity, alcohol and drug use, relationship status, and other questions on private matters. 

What Are the Drawbacks of Consumer Research Panels?

Unfortunately, online consumer panels aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. They do, in fact, have some clear and obvious drawbacks, which include: 

  • Small sample sizes and limited availability: Depending on your industry and target market, you may experience difficulty in finding respondents due to age, location, or lack of internet access, all of which could skew your data. 
  • “Bad eggs” can derail your research: There are certain types of consumer panelists who can throw your research into disarray. From bots and fake accounts to professional survey takers – who are more interested in completing your questionnaire in record time than delivering accurate insights – consumer research panels can suffer from a lack of transparency and data quality if managed poorly. 
  • Online survey fatigue: Chances are you won’t be the only one trying to reach your target audience with a questionnaire. Online surveys have never been more popular, but this level of popularity can lead to jaded recipients simply ignoring or deleting your invitations.
  • Risk of panel dropouts: Using the same panel for months on end won’t guarantee that it’ll stay intact. Participants may drop out over time, meaning the quality and accuracy of the feedback could be affected.
  • Lack of clarification or follow-ups: Other, more qualitative methods of consumer research will often involve a trained interviewer, there to prod and probe a respondent into expanding on an interesting point or observation. This is lacking from online consumer panels, making it difficult to clarify what someone meant if their feedback is vague

Examples of Consumer Research Panels in Action

As we touched on earlier, there are a number of ways in which a research panel can be used in pursuit of valuable insights and game-changing feedback. Here are a few examples:

  • Product testing: Some research panels can be incentivized to provide feedback in exchange for an early look at a new product – so long as they provide an in-depth response based on their first impressions and overall experience. This is particularly useful pre-launch, allowing you to gather feedback and make improvements. 
  • App onboarding: Similar to product testing, you can use a research panel to test the onboarding process for an app or piece of software. This will put your interface at the fingertips of the very people you hope will use it post-launch, giving you a vital glimpse into their experience and enjoyment.
  • Ad testing: Marketing companies and digital agencies can use consumer research panels to test the impact of a particular advertisement or campaign, ensuring that it makes a connection with the target audience and encourages them to take action.

An Alternative to Conventional Consumer Research Panels

Used properly — and with a reliable and vetted panel of respondents — consumer research panels can help your business gain a competitive advantage. At least, that’s the idea. Because, as more and more companies are discovering, consumer panels are on the downswing. Those drawbacks we mentioned above are becoming more prevalent, making quality feedback harder to find.

Here at Pollfish, we don’t use panels of professional survey takers. Instead, you benefit from our market research methodology by sourcing real people who are online right now. We let you survey people who are going in and out of applications, through our partnerships with publishers. It’s a randomized yet targeted survey distribution method, and you reach verified respondents who have real insights. 

With over half a billion people in our network, we never have to worry about data quality. We can simply remove those bad eggs and retain only the best, most authentic, and most useful information.

Frequently asked questions

What is a consumer research panel?

A consumer research panel is a marketing term that describes bringing a group of people together with the goal of understanding their thoughts, ideas, and opinions on a product or service.

How are the members of a consumer research panel chosen?

Researchers select members of a research panel based on key characteristics of their target audience. This can include certain demographics, interests, lifestyle choices, etc.

Why are consumer research panels conducted?

Consumer research panels are conducted to help business owners gain deeper insights about their target audience. The insights revealed in a panel are different from those that can be obtained by doing research or reviewing hard data.

What is an online consumer research panel?

An online consumer research panel differs from a traditional research panel because it is conducted entirely online, rather than in-person.

What are the benefits of online consumer research panels?

Online consumer research panels can be deployed faster, can reach a larger sample size more easily, are cost-effective, and provide anonymity for respondents, which may result in more honest, in-depth feedback.