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Panel Survey: How It Works & How to Design One

If you’re contemplating running a panel survey for your study, be sure to develop a thorough and realistic plan of action. Here are some other helpful tips...

Adam R.
March 22, 2023

Panel Survey: How It Works & How to Design One


How panel survey work

Panel Study Definition

Panel surveys are a method of collecting consumer research data; ubiquitous in the fields of marketing and academia, these surveys involve gathering audiences and measuring changes in their behavior over time. This is a kind of longitudinal study that provides invaluable insights to researchers looking to observe how their audiences react to new events or product updates.

Unlike other surveying methods, panel surveys are administered to the same group of participants several times over a longer period. They utilize a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods to capture both numerical figures and qualitative data. These surveys can take the form of digital questionnaires, online or in-person interviews, and or even short research tasks.

Difference between Cohort and Panel Study

The key difference between cohort and panel studies lies with their audiences. While they are both types of longitudinal studies, a cohort study gathers groups of individuals based on their shared characteristics; additionally, cohort studies will survey multiple unique sets of participants over the course of one study. This differs from panel studies, where the audience members being examined are kept consistent throughout the entire course of the study.

Both cohort and panel studies operate over a longer time frame than traditional surveys, as the data they collect is heavily dependent on detecting changes in results. 

Cohort vs. Panel Study

Panel Research Design

Designing a research panel survey involves gathering up the various tools and methodologies required for testing. Take the time to first consider the goals you’re looking to accomplish through panel surveying; from there, follow the remaining steps of the panel research process.

Steps of the Panel Research Process

Panel research is a labor and time intensive process. As these tests are conducted over extended periods of time, large amounts of data are collected & analyzed; breaking this process down into distinct steps enables researchers to make focused and decisive survey methodology. 

  1. Defining Research Objectives

The first and most essential step in the panel survey design process is defining a purpose. Researchers strive to narrow down their goals into specific and clearly defined objectives; often starting with asking “how” or “why” a phenomenon occurs. The more sure you are of your research goal, the more clearly you can visualize the methodology needed to complete your study.

  1. Identify Your Target Audience

This step goes hand in hand with developing your research objectives. It’s not enough to know how you’re going to conduct a study; you must clearly identify your participants as well. After considering which demographic segments you want in your audience, you will have to then consider how they might respond to your testing methods. Structuring your methods around the beliefs and abilities of your target audience is crucial to the success of your research.

  1. Creating Product Methodology

This is where you pair your objectives with the proper tools and procedures necessary to achieve them. Identify the online panel survey platforms you’ll use to manage data collection and interact with panelists. Create a plan for how you will use the data you collect later on in your analysis. 

  1. Data Collection Process

Notify your panelists and execute your panel survey testing. Deliver your survey to groups of select panelists, collect feedback, and reconvene. Make changes to your survey design according to notes and audience comments, and then re-submit your survey for additional rounds of testing.

  1. Research Data Analysis

Compile your research and analyze your data. Develop your findings into actionable conclusions that can be directly applied to your research topic.

  1. Visualize and Deliver Your Findings

Create an action plan based on the conclusions you’ve made. Deliver your report to the appropriate stakeholders; work with other departments to implement changes into the system.

Once your teams incorporate the new changes into your product, begin planning for the next set of panel surveys. Panel surveying always works best when treated as a continuous process; one that occurs over the course of a product’s lifetime.

Advantages of Panel Surveys

  • Increased Response Rate: Audiences for panel surveys have an increased likelihood of completing your surveys. The nature of panel surveys demands they be carried out over longer periods of time, allowing for large quantities of data to be gathered from the same consumer groups while reducing induced fatigue. 
  • Efficiency: It is common practice to incentivize panelists to complete surveys with either gifts, entry in a raffle, or monetary compensation. Panel surveys require far fewer panelists to complete compared to traditional surveying methods; thereby reducing overhead costs. Panel surveys also provide 
  • High Quality Insights: Comments generated by panel surveys are often more informed, better stated, and worth more to researchers than your typical survey response. As panelists become more familiar with your brand over the course of the testing process, the quality of their answers improves.
  • Expansive Demographic Selection: Digital survey platforms give researchers access to hundreds of unique demographic segments - allowing them to target their audiences with pinpoint accuracy. 
  • Qualitative Responses: Panel surveys are designed to draw out intimate, thorough responses from audiences. By conducting multiple surveys over a longer period of time, researchers can piece together a far more complete idea of how their respondents think.


Benefits of Panel Surveys


Panel Study Examples

Due to the flexible nature of panel surveys, researchers utilize them to gather insights on a wide variety of topics and interests: purchasing behavior, product performance, changes in consumer preferences, and more.

Below are some of the most common cases for panel study use:

Example 1: Evaluating Product Performance

One of the most common uses for panel studies is for the purpose of evaluating the performance of a product. As panel studies are longitudinal, they can look at how audience perception of a product changes over time; possibly hinting at potential problems with the brand.

Questions in a product panel study may look like:

  • How satisfied are you with your product purchasing experience?
  • Overall, how satisfied are you with the product?
  • How would you rate the quality of our product?
  • How would you rate the price you paid for our product?
  • How many times have you purchased our product in the last month?
  • How would you rate the recent changes we’ve made to our product?
  • How would you rate our products performance with (companion product)?

These questions help researchers to identify key pressure points their customers have about their products, and enable companies to evaluate if their policy changes are moving them in the right direction. 

Example 2: Measuring Employee Satisfaction

Measuring employee morale and motivation provides managers and businesses with a number of important benefits. They increase employee engagement, help managers identify bottlenecks or bad policies, and can dramatically increase employee retention; so long as that company is willing to make the appropriate changes to accommodate their workers.

  • On a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”
  • I am motivated to do my best at work.
  • I am engaged in the work that I do.
  • I feel I have a voice at this company.
  • I am respected where I work.
  • I am well compensated for the work that I do.
  • How likely are you to recommend a friend or family member to work here?
  • How would you describe your experience working for our company?
  • Do you have any recommendations you would like to make to your supervisor?

These sorts of panel survey questions, done over several months or longer, will develop your managerial relationship with your employees. Implementing these changes and removing barriers helps increase employee satisfaction and job efficiency. 

Example 3: Understanding Changes in Consumer Preference

Panel surveys are one of the most effective ways that businesses can keep informed about changes in consumer taste. When companies track shifts in the preferences of their users, they can more readily adapt their own product to fit those new needs.

  • How many times have you purchased our product in the last 6 months/3 months/1 months?
  • How would you rate your satisfaction with our recent policy changes?
  • Have you purchased any of our competitor’s products within the last 3 months?
  • How would you rate your overall satisfaction with our competitor’s product?
  • What element of our product is most important to you?
  • If we raised the price of our product from (x) to (y), would you still pay for it?

This line of questioning can provide researchers with the information necessary to keep up 

Panel Sampling

Panel sampling involves making several key decisions about the size and scope of your research project; as well as the number of participants you’ll be testing and their origins.

In order to properly sample for your panel survey, start by choosing the panel survey website you plan to conduct your polling research with. From there, narrow down your audiences by demographics - until you have a clearly defined group of panelists you want to target. 

For example, your panel studies might divide panelists along the lines of their shared:

  • Age Group
  • Regional Location
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Hobbies/Interests
  • Income Level
  • Purchasing History
  • Relationship Status

The panelists sampled for your study will ultimately represent a mixture of these unique demographic groups. When it comes to sampling, a larger test audience often means that your testing is representative of the true population. 

Panel Sampling decision

Key Takeaways

If you’re contemplating running a panel survey for your study, be sure to develop a thorough and realistic plan of action. Panel surveys are extremely useful for longitudinal research, like in cases where customer behaviors or preferences evolve over a period of time. Interviewing panelists over an extended period of time - asking them the same questions and noting the differences - can give researchers valuable insight into the minds of their audiences. 

For the best in panel surveying software, look no further than Helpfull We offer clients access to thousands of real customers across North America; enabling businesses to get the feedback they need in real time.

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