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Finding the Right Fit: Custom Panel or Online Community?

Shopping for clothes isn’t always an easy task. There are a number of decisions that need to be made to make sure that you go home with exactly what you want. Is it the right style? Is it durable? How much can I afford to spend?

Surprisingly, these are the same kinds of questions that you need to ask when identifying whether a custom panel or online community is what your company needs.

In the past, custom panels have brought tremendous benefits to market research teams.  For example, in order to better serve their customers, utility companies have used panels to learn more about how customers would like to be notified of power outages. Companies are also honing in on the action as online communities become insightful additions to traditional qualitative methods. 

But choosing the method that is right for you—to generate usable results—is a large part of the battle. Begin by answering the following three questions.

1. Who are you targeting?

Are you targeting young insurance brokers or middle-aged women? Your use of a panel or community depends on your target market.

Panels are much more suitable to a broad market, as panelists are willing to participate and often easier to reach. For example, a retailer who wants to conduct customer satisfaction research regarding product selection or customer service needs quantitative results from customers that shop at his various store locations. A survey through a custom panel can provide these detailed results by location as well as a larger picture of his brand and stores as a whole.

In contrast, communities do not necessarily need to consist of your customers. Participants can be anyone—even your competitor’s customers—allowing for a number of studies to take place (which may even lead you to the development of a custom panel). Communities can help you identify what you need to talk about in future surveys and who you need to talk about it with.

2. How much time do you want to spend on this research?

In other words, how much active participation do you want over a defined amount of time?

Online communities:

  • Can be open for weeks or months at a time
  • Better for obtaining a large variety of information
  • Allows for in-depth discussion
  • Encourages side thoughts and other conversations in order to give insight into things that the company may not have thought about

Custom panels:

  • Can be open for weeks to years at a time
  • Extremely focused in finding information (but surveys can be broad or narrow in scope)
  • Set up for conducting multiple studies

3. What are your budget constraints?

The question of budget question will define your research scope from the beginning.

Communities are made for those with tighter budgets. However, if a community is used for constant engagement for an extended period of time, it can become more expensive.

Panels, again because they are extremely specific and focused, require thorough preparation in order to obtain the correct participants and to create the study. This will necessitate a greater investment of both funds and time.

Moving forward

As you consider whether the tangible advantage a custom panel or community generates is enough to invest in starting to build one, consider the following questions: 

  •  Who are my end users (internal consumers of research, decision makers)?
  • What are their business needs (and most important decisions) and what research studies will support these needs?
  • Which studies may be appropriate for a custom online panel or online community?

These are just a few of the questions that should be considered in developing your market research strategy. Learn more from our eReport on the top 10 mistakes to avoid when building and using a custom online panel.