Online Marketing Research Panels, Part 2

Last month, we started to discuss online panels as a tool for Marketing Research, especially in situations where the response rate is predicted to be low and/or data collection needs to occur quickly. However, because all panels are not created equal, and choosing the wrong panel company can significantly affect the quality of the data you collect, we continue the discussion this month with questions to ask in order to ensure that your project will be completed efficiently and your data will not be compromised.

(Missed last month�s newsletter? Click here: Polaris Marketing Research Company - MR Perspectives Newsletter)

Key Question: What makes you different from other panel vendors?

When you start talking to panel vendors, you will find that it appears that they are all very similar. So be sure to ask them how they are different from other panel vendors. Some will say their specialty panels, some will say their customer service or quick turn-around time. Some panel vendors offer complimentary real-time incidence checks to give more accurate pricing. Some offer sample only and other also provide the online survey implementation.

How do you guard against bad respondents?

Since panels give incentives for participation, some panel members may be motivated more by collecting the incentive than actually providing quality data. Members may provide false data in order to qualify for a panel or survey that they aren�t qualified to take. Members may also go too fast through a survey to fully read the questions or provide fully thought-out responses, or they may not read the questions at all and just select responses at random.

It is important to choose a panel company that is looking out for these bad respondents and removing them from your data and their panels. The panel company should be monitoring respondents� survey completion time and whether they are providing quality responses. Individuals who provide different answers to the same question asked at the beginning and the end of the survey or provide the same answers to different questions that are logically inconsistent (agree to both �I love going to the beach� and �I hate going to the beach�) should be flagged. Some panel companies include these �trap� questions in their surveys, asking respondents to report their usage of products or services that don�t actually exist or asking them to complete a simple set of directions such as �check the box below.�

Others panel providers verify the initial information panelists provide against extensive databases of information (often publicly available). If an individual says they are a married, stay-at-home mother of two, but their name and email address is linked to a single, male contractor, they are not permitted to join the panel. Limiting the number of times a panelist is sent a survey or is permitted to take a survey also decreases the percentage of bad respondents in a panel and the likelihood that any given panelist will engage in bad respondent behavior.

It is important to not only find out which methods your potential panel company undertakes to monitor the quality of data coming in, but also how many strikes they allow before an member is kicked out of their panel and what they do to prevent that panelist from rejoining.

How and how much are members incentivized?

Another thing that panel companies can do to deter individuals from joining the panel or taking surveys just for the incentives is offer the right incentives. The panel companies need to provide a good balance between offering an incentive that is enticing enough to get a good response rate but not so enticing that it encourages behavior such as trying to qualify for a survey they shouldn�t be qualified for, join the panel under different aliases, or quickly click through the survey in order to collect the incentive. The participant group and survey length should be taken into account so that incentives are properly matched to the difficulty of getting the needed responses. Ask your potential panel company what their incentives are and how they come up with them.

How and how often do you maintain the panel data?

Many panel companies collect demographic data on their panel members that they use to screen individuals for your surveys. However, if you want to only survey individuals who have a certain level of income or have purchased a home within the last year, if this information was only asked of panelists once to qualify them for the panel, it could no longer be valid. Individuals� contact information also changes. Find out how and how often panel members� information is updated in order to keep data quality high and response rate up.

How do you prevent panel members from taking a survey more than once?

We have already introduced the concept of �professional respondents,� as respondents who join multiple different panels. Well, some �professional respondents� also try to join the same panel multiple times under different aliases. Whether or not you use one or multiple panels to recruit your respondents, you need to know that you don�t have any given individual�s data being collected more than once. Ask your potential panel company if they allow individuals in their panel who belong to multiple panels and, if not, how they check for this. Also, find out what measures they take to prevent individuals from joining their panel multiple times under different aliases. Many panel companies are using a form of �digital fingerprinting� to catch these over-represented panel members. (

What are your compliance, privacy and ethical standards?

In the age of the Internet, many companies which have a list believe they can add a revenue stream by becoming an online panel provider. However, they may not truly understand the marketing research environment, proper panel management and data quality needs. One way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to determine what marketing research organizations they belong to (e.g., MRA, CASRO, ESOMAR), what ethics standards they comply with and what regulatory compliance they offer (e.g., HIPPA and COPPA). If they aren�t part of any of these, you probably should avoid doing business with them. Of course another, far simpler check on how a panel vendor does business is to find out how long they have been in the business. While there are many terrific new companies, some history in the industry is preferable.

A survey panel can be a useful asset, especially in a crunch. Finding a panel company that is able to successfully answer all of these questions will ensure that you are choosing a panel company that cares just as much about the quality of your data as you do.


Sources: Malhotra, Naresh K. (2007). Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation- 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.

All Content � Copyright 2004-2011. Polaris Marketing Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Send inquiries to or call 1-888-816- 8700.