market research panel

Market Research Panel Definition: All You Need to Know for Meaningful Market Research

Market Research Panel Definition: All You Need to Know for Meaningful Market Research

market research panel

Have you ever considered using a market research panel to lead your research campaigns? This method is typically applied to market research, which is essential to understanding and satisfying your customers.

Market research is critical for all businesses, no matter how attuned you may consider yourself to be with your customers. The importance of market research cannot be understated; it helps you keep continuous tabs on your most important customers: your target market.

There are many routes you can take in the broad field of market research, as there are many market research techniques available. This includes primary and secondary methods of obtaining the research.

A market research panel is one such technique. This research method grants researchers participants who opt into a study, typically one that is conducted through multiple rounds of research, whether it is through surveys or other tools. 

The panelists that make up the research panel are not randomly selected; instead, they are recruited and pre-screened.

Panels have various nuances that you ought to know about before selecting a research method, especially one that concerns how you’ll reach your target market. You should also compare panels with organic sampling, which is a different approach to identifying and gathering respondents for your research studies. 

Luckily, this exhaustive guide allows you to do just that.

This guide explores the market research panel in full depth, delving into why it matters, how it is put together, their different types and much more. In addition, this article covers their drawbacks and how organic sampling is the better research method

Table of Contents: How To Conduct A Survey That You Can Trust In 8 Steps

  1. Defining the Market Research Panel
  2. Market Research Panels: Why Do They Matter?
  3. How to Put Together Market Research Panels?
    1. The Need to First Identify Your Segmented Target Audience
    2. Market Research Providers and In-House Research Teams
    3. Determine your panel size
    4. Using Online Channels to Opt-In Potential Panelists
    5. Vetting Your Panelists
    6. Incentivize Your Panelists
    7. Carry Out Panel Research
    8. Maintain and Manage Your Survey Panel
  4. Are There Different Types of Market Research Panels?
  5. What Are the Advantages of Using a Market Research Panel?
  6. How Does an Online Market Research Panel Benefit Brands?
    1. Are There Drawbacks to Using an Online Market Research Panel?
  7. Combat Reduced Research Quality Using Organic Probability Sampling
  8. The Need for a Strong Market Research Platform to Leverage Organic Sampling and More

Defining the Market Research Panel

A market research panel can be defined as a selection of research participants, chosen specifically for market research purposes. But there’s much more to this.

A market research panel is a pre-recruited group of people who have agreed to take part in market research studies. These studies can be conducted through a variety of methods and tools. 

The research tools and methods used with panels can include the following:

  1. Online surveys
  2. In-depth interviews (IDIs)
  3. Focus groups
  4. In-home use tests (IHUTs)
  5. Mobile ethnographies
    1. This involves studying customers in a natural environment but with the addition of technology to document and analyze real-time customer experiences.
    2. For example, it may use mobile ethnography app systems to conduct these studies. This allows you to remotely research human behaviors, journeys and experiences.
  6. Field research

Those selected to partake in a market research panel are usually used in more than just one research survey, even if they only enlist in one survey campaign. That means they can be expected to partake in several rounds of interviews, surveys, focus groups, etc. 

This is why researchers who typically opt to reach participants via a research panel use the panelists to conduct longitudinal research. Longitudinal studies involve repeatedly examining the same individuals to detect any changes that might occur over a certain period. 

Longitudinal studies are a kind of correlational research; researchers gather and observe data on a variety of variables without influencing the variables in any way. 

This kind of research uses longitudinal surveys and can last years. 

Despite being associated with the research of change and development, a market research panel can also be used in cross-sectional research. These kinds of studies deal with collecting research about a particular population at one fixed point in time. Due to the nature of this research, it is often referred to as a snapshot of a target population. 

You can use a panel for this kind of research by using cross-sectional surveys

A market research panel helps researchers better understand the strengths and weaknesses of – or sentiments towards – a particular product, service, brand, or message. Because researchers are often fact-finding on behalf of brands, these panels also can be known as brand research panels.

Market Research Panels: Why Do They Matter?

Market research panels matter for a variety of reasons.

First off, they provide both researchers and businesses who have no dedicated research personnel, with a go-to set of participants they can study firsthand continuously. This is critical, given that a major aspect of research is to target the correct audience in your study.

In market research, studying your target market is an absolute necessity. Panels provide easy and constant access to a target market sample, the pool of participants who represent your target market. 

market research panel importance

As such, the panelists are the research subjects, which is the crux of any research (unless you’re not studying humans). They are key to market research, as this research type is centered on understanding your customers to test the viability of any new product or service, and most importantly, sell to them. 

Thus, the market research panel provides researchers et al. with a reliable group of research participants that they can turn to continuously

This is a major convenience, given that it means researchers won’t have to scramble for research participants each time they need to conduct a research campaign. They also can rest assured that they’ll have research subjects to use in any ongoing research project, such as in longitudinal or prospective studies.

Aside from long-term research, panels can also be used in the aforementioned cross-sectional research studies as well.

In addition, panels provide businesses with a method to be more noticeable to their customers in an oversaturated market. Against the backdrop of social media and second screening, product owners, service providers and marketers are fighting tooth and nail to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace

While some are becoming harder to differentiate, since many brands compete on similar price points and features, there is still one area up for grabs: a customer’s experience

Thus, by designing a pleasant research experience and mentioning your business in the study, customers will associate their good memories during their research experience with your business.

panel research

In this scenario, the study itself serves as a marketing tactic to make your business resonate with its target market. 

All in all, market research panels ensure you have constant access to your target market for your research study. They get to the heart of the matter of your area of study. The goal is to actively listen to and act upon the insights gleaned from your panelists.

Once you understand how your product or service makes your research panel feel, you can make the necessary changes to position your brand more effectively — irrespective of price or feature set.

How to Put Together Market Research Panels?

Today, market research panels are usually recruited via digital channels, as opposed to in-person scouting and interviewing. The latter is still possible, but not very common, given the ease, speed and prevalence of the Internet. 

The following sections explain how to form, recruit and manage market research panels. 

1. The Need to First Identify Your Segmented Target Audience

It’s important to ensure that you identify the target market segments you’ll need to include in your study before you recruit your panel. As such, we recommend conducting market segmentation first. 

This way, you’ll know the distinct segments that make up your broader target market. In addition, performing segmentation allows you to identify your customer personas. These are fictional characters that represent unique members of your target market who fall under specific demographics, psychographics and the like.  

find survey panelists

You can conduct market segmentation with the help of market research software, particularly survey software. This will allow you to conduct surveys on any topic, including narrowing down your target market into segments

Once you’ve segmented your target market and created various customer profiles, it is time to move on to determining the correct target audience. 

Your survey target audience and your panel target audience specifically need to be determined before you recruit your panelists. 

Your target market is not the same as your target panel audience

Keep in mind that neither your target market nor its segments are equivalent to the target audience of your panel. This is because a panel, like other research techniques, is centered on different topics. 

Each topic may require different audiences. 

You may have a survey campaign that relies on studying one market segment, or a few. Additionally, you may need to conduct another research campaign on another topic, one that involves different segments and customer personas.

Although you’ll be choosing from the same market segments, each segment will not satisfy or be appropriate for every panel study you conduct. Thus, your panel audience is separate from your market segments. 

This is crucial and must be done before you reach out to your potential panelists. 

2. Market Research Providers and In-House Research Teams

Once you’ve determined the panel audience you’ll need for your market research studies, you’ll then need to choose from one of two main options to put together your panel.

market research panel providers

The first main option is to use market research panel providers that you have discovered and trust. Typically, this is done via the Internet. The panel provider would recruit and opt-in the panelists. 

However, you and your team would still be involved in the process of targeting the panelists, as you would need to share your target market segments with the panel provider. Most importantly, you would need to inform them of your target panel audience. 

As discussed in the previous section, these are not the same populations.

Alternatively, some businesses with in-house research teams find their panelists by releasing their ads and notices online. This is the second main option for creating a market research panel. You would need to enlist the panelists via your online platform of choice. 

There are many options available for obtaining panelists in the digital space.

3. Determine your panel size

Before you recruit your panel, you’ll need to determine how many panelists you’ll need to participate in your research panel. To do so, you need to consider the following factors:

  1. Your ideal sample size, 
  2. Your response rate
  3. The number of studies you intend to execute

For example, imagine you need 700 responses per survey; you have a response rate of 40%, and you’re seeking to run two studies each month. You’ll need to plug each variable into the following formula to find your panel size.

The panel size formula is:

(sample size per survey / (response rate) x (studies per month) ) x 100 = amount of panelists needed

(500 / 40% X 2 ) x 100 = 2500 panelists

Bear in mind that some people will not want to remain for the entirety of the study and will thereby leave. This is known as panel attrition. As a safety net for attrition, make sure to form a panel that consists of 10-20% more panelists than what the formula calculates as your ideal panel size. 

Make sure you have all the requirements in hand before you start recruiting and aim to go 10-20% above your minimum number to cover you in case people opt out of your panel or you don’t hit your target response rate.

4. Using Online Channels to Opt-In Potential Panelists

There are a variety of online channels that you can choose from to obtain and opt-in your potential panelists.

online market research panels

You can invite participants to join your panel through web ads, email lists, social media, website landing pages, homepages, or third-party app partners

They would then be asked to opt in and complete an onboarding questionnaire, which helps to organize them based on certain distinguishable traits. such as age, gender, location, profession, and personal interests. 

These can be — and oftentimes are — based on the potential panelists’ demographics, psychographics, behaviors and geographical locations. 

5. Vetting Your Panelists

The questionnaire you use should vet your potential panelists on a wide range of traits and their subcategories. You wouldn’t want to enroll the wrong audience in your panel. In addition, you would want your panelists to align with all the requirements you determined for your panel audience in one of the previous sections. 

As such, you should vet your potential panelists, those who opted in through any of the online channels you chose, with a rigorous set of panel criteria.

survey panelists

The following explains the criteria for choosing the correct research panel:

    1. Demographics 
      1. This involves basic groupings based on the potential panelists’ gender, age, income levels, race, ethnicity, employment type, education, salary, etc.
      2. You can get as granular as you wish, provided you have the right tools to do so.
    2. Psychographics
      1. This involves the attitudes, interests, lifestyles, aspirations, values and other psychological criteria you would need to group your panelists by.
      2. It also involves whether they engage in particular customer behavior, such as frequency of purchases, brand preferences, consumer loyalty to certain brands, etc.
    3. Geographical locations
      1. This can include macro and micro-locations.
      2. As such, you may need to target panelists based on their country, state, territory, city, zip code and more.
      3. The granularity of targeting will depend on the kind of methods your panel provider or your in-house researcher team uses.   
    4. Firmographics
      1. This category applies when you seek to form a panel of business personnel, which you will need for conducting B2B research.
      2. As such, it requires running B2B surveys
      3. Assure that the company you aim to use panelists from matches the needs of your study.

6. Incentivize Your Panelists

Participation in a research panel is often incentivized. Few people would devote their time and efforts for free, not least for a continuous project, which most panels often are used for. 

As such, remember to offer panel members rewards in exchange for their feedback and time. You’ll need to consult with your panel provider if you don’t recruit and work with your panelists yourself and are concerned about incentivizing them.

These rewards can vary from one vendor to the next but can be monetary or non-monetary. Thus, they can include cash, gift cards, vouchers, free subscriptions to a service and free products. You can also offer a points system in which panelists can redeem for goods and services.

7. Carry Out Panel Research

Now that you have formed a market research panel, it is time to use it for your various research purposes. You’ll want to first split your panelists into different market research campaigns and studies. As mentioned earlier, each panel study will require a different audience.

Therefore, before you begin conducting your research with your panel, make sure to assign it to its designated research campaign, its sub-campaign and its particular study. Once you do this, you can conduct your studies.

To reiterate, once you have put together your panel, you can choose from various research tools and methods. You can opt for surveys, focus groups, phone interviews, mobile ethnography, in-home use tests and more.

During your research sessions, make sure you record as much information from the panelists as possible. This is why using surveys is an ideal route, as they collect all the insights your panelists share, as opposed to experiments, product testing and focus groups. 

8. Maintain and Manage Your Survey Panel

Managing your survey panel is not the same as recruiting it. It takes practice and best practices to ensure you maintain your panelists and build a strong relationship with them. They are people, after all, and not solely those who take your survey once.

As such, you should attempt to form strong connections with your panel. Whenever you reach out to them, whether it's over email or phone, be friendly and use language that makes your panelists feel important and appreciated.

Avoid sounding too generic and make your outreach personable — and personalized. Ask yourself, before you send any emails, if you would open the email, read it in its entirety and respond.

It’s crucial to ensure your research is easy to partake in, yet another reason to distribute surveys, as they take less time than field research, experiments and the like. 

If you’re managing a panel in-house, you should consider assigning a designated person to manage the panel. Use someone from your business to keep in touch with the panel members and serve as the head of the panel.

Always keep your research promises to avoid panel attrition. This means, that if you’ve set a specific cadence of 1 study a month or 3 interviews per month, make sure to honor that cadence. Going above or below it will frustrate your panelists and make you untrustworthy.

It will therefore cause chaos in your study, which can easily lead to attention. 

Are There Different Types of Market Research Panels?

Market research panels can be split into two main groups: B2B panels and B2C panels. There are many other subgroups within each category, but it is key to know their presence and differentiating qualities.

  • B2B (business-to-business) panels are made up of business owners, professionals, industry experts, advisors and decision-makers. 
    • Panelists often respond to business-related surveys regarding industry type, segmentation, or market demographics.
    • This kind of panel would require vetting members based on firmographics. 
  • B2C (business-to-consumer) panels comprise customers or end-users of a brand, product, or service. 
    • Businesses use these panels to access feedback from their target audiences.

What Are the Advantages of Using a Market Research Panel?

Online market research panels tend to be more popular than other, more traditional research methods. Often called legacy research methods, they usually take more time and effort to complete and don’t provide the same precision as a smart online survey platform does. 

Take telephone interviews, for example. These require a lot of time and expense to run, and there’s no guarantee that the person answering the phone is 1) interested and available to speak, and 2) fits within the target demographic you wish to hear from. 

online survey platform

Research panels, on the other hand, are made up of pre-screened individuals who have already opted-in to respond to surveys. This makes panels more cost-effective (and faster) to run.

Other advantages of market research panels include:

  • Higher response rates: Respondents are motivated to take part in research and are less likely to be “caught cold” by a survey. This is usually because they’ve signed up themselves via an app or website, have subject matter knowledge they wish to share, or are incentivized by rewards, such as cash, vouchers, or points.
  • Diverse viewpoints: A well-run, established research panel can be made up of any number of individuals from different backgrounds, professions, age groups, or locations. This level of variety allows you to mirror your specific audience during a research project.
  • Reliable panel screening: The onboarding process of a panelist means their demographics are captured and categorized from the outset. This makes market segmentation easier and allows research panels to be convened quickly to gauge opinion or test the waters with a new product or survey platforms

How Does an Online Market Research Panel Benefit Brands?

In addition to the advantages mentioned above, research panels have specific benefits for the brands and businesses that utilize them:

  • It offers quicker research turnaround: If a brand has entered the final stretch of a product development initiative or marketing campaign, and wishes to check in with their target audience, pulling together a focus group at the last minute can be challenging – and expensive. Market research panels let brands access insights and feedback faster than other research methods.
  • Multimedia elements can be included: Online market research panels can seamlessly include video, photographs, and sound clips to enrich the survey experience and provide a far better level of feedback. Using multimedia elements in other forms of market research can range from difficult to impossible.
  • Products/services can be tested with real end-users: Before releasing products or launching services to the wider market, brands can test them with a facsimile of their target audience. Panels allow brands to gather actionable insights quickly, gauging sentiment and performance in the process. 

Are There Drawbacks to Using an Online Market Research Panel?

While market research panels do benefit both analysts and brands alike, they’re not immune from some glaring pitfalls. You should be aware of them before selecting this method for conducting research. 

  • Limited to those with internet access: As the name suggests, an online market research panel requires internet access. This is fine if your target audience is from a country where the internet is easily affordable and accessible, but if you wish to learn more from an older and/or remote group of people, it’s perhaps not the best research method.
  • Risk of duplicate respondents: People who enjoy participating in surveys (or are motivated to do so via incentives) will likely sign up for multiple survey vendors. This can result in the duplication of responses, skewing the data in the process. While some vendors will do their best to remove duplicate respondents, it’s still important that the data is scrutinized.
  • Risk of poor data quality: Speaking of data, surveys can attract a range of less desirable respondents, motivated solely by incentives and with no interest in sharing considered opinions and feedback. Speeders, straight-liners, survey professionals, fake accounts, bots, and more, these types of panelists can quickly derail a survey.
  • Acquiescence bias and other biases: Also called agreement bias, acquiescence bias occurs when panelists are inclined to provide only positive or agreeable answers. With this bias, respondents feel more social pressure to answer in a particular way, as their identities are known to your business or the panel provider.
  • Longer recruitment and vetting periods: It doesn’t take a few minutes to vet and recruit a panel. That’s because you would first need to target its members, have them opt-in, review their self-identifying questionnaires to confirm their qualifications and ensure you have the required panel size before you even form the panel, let alone conduct the research with it.

Combat Reduced Research Quality Using Organic Probability Sampling

Although research panels can deliver a range of benefits, the market research panel definition we shared at the start of this article only tells part of the story. 

While these panels are largely comprised of motivated research participants — survey participation has been on the wane. This means the quality of research panels is fast becoming compromised as traditional companies scramble for participants from anywhere and everywhere.  

organic survey sampling

At Pollfish, we avoid using conventional panels for this very reason. Instead, we’ve developed our very own market research methodology called Organic Probability Sampling. This involves sourcing our audience of real consumers via partnerships with app publishers, which allows us to conduct randomized, yet highly targeted surveys to verified respondents. 

Our unique process is known as Random Device Engagement, (RDE), which uses the organic sampling approach for finding and obtaining survey participants. 

This randomized method of reaching respondents ensures you avoid acquiescence bias from respondents, due to the anonymous nature of this route. 

In addition, it allows you to steer clear of the sampling bias, which occurs when the respondent selection process is not conducted at random, which then leads to under or overrepresentation of a certain market segment. 

A kind of organic probability sampling, RDE polling relies on advertising networks and other digital platforms to engage potential respondents wherever they visit voluntarily. This includes a variety of digital platforms and properties, such as:

  1. Mobile sites
  2. Apps 
  3. Website 
  4. Mobile games

With over 250 people in our network, we never have to worry about data quality, delivering only the best, most authentic, and most useful insights to our clients.

The Need for a Strong Market Research Platform to Leverage Organic Sampling and More

Our final word involves highlighting not merely the importance of organic sampling and RDE, but the need to leverage the right online survey platform to carry out your entire research campaign.

A potent online survey provider, one that offers enterprise survey software will do all the heavy lifting for your market research campaigns. That’s because such a platform doesn’t simply facilitate creating surveys.

Instead, it allows you to hyper-target your survey audience, set quotes, reach populations from far and wide and ensure your survey gathers the exact amount of respondents as you input into your audience requirements section.

It would enable you to target respondents based on screening questions, along with inputting a large swath of respondent qualifications, including the four main categories of demographic, psychographic, geographic and firmographic identifiers. 

In addition, a strong survey provider grants you options aside from the Random Device Engemanet method of reaching respondents. Instead, it should also afford you the option to survey specific people, via the channels you specifically choose to deploy your surveys through.

This includes using channels such as via email, or whichever digital channel you seek to use. Fortunately, we offer the Distribution Link feature, which allows you to do just that.

All in all, a strong survey platform that offers random sampling through RDE and a variety of market research features and tools trumps market research panels.

Luckily, the Pollfish platform uses the RDE method and offers a variety of market research features such as A/B testing, conjoint analysis and much more to ensure a quality research campaign and avoid survey biases and fraud. 

Frequently asked questions

What is a market research panel?

A market research panel is a group of individuals who have been recruited to take part in market research, which may include surveys, online panels, or in-person panels.

How do B2B market research panels differ from B2C panels?

B2B (business-to-business) panels focus on the relationship between two businesses and may consist of business owners, industry experts, and other professionals. B2C (business-to-consumer) panels focus on the relationship between the business and their target market (the consumer). B2C panels will consist of members who represent that target market.

What are the advantages of an online market research panel?

Online market research panels are more popular than their traditional counterparts for several reasons. Online market research panels are most cost-effective, faster to deploy, have higher response rates, provide better data sampling, and allow for diverse viewpoints to be heard.

Why is poor data quality a risk of online market research panels?

Online surveys can attract individuals who participate in surveys solely for the incentive or reward. These respondents are less motivated to share genuine opinions. There is also the risk that fake accounts and bots could be used to game the system.

How can you improve data quality of online market research panels?

The results gathered through online market research panels can be improved by using organic probably sampling, a market research methodology developed by Pollfish. This approach sources survey respondents who are motivated to participate for genuine reasons.