What is a panel survey

Learn how panel surveys can help your company understand ever-changing consumer opinions and behaviours.
10 May 2023
what is a panel survey
Stephanie Shikhris

Research Director

Get in touch

Surveys typically take a snapshot, capturing consumer attitudes and experiences at a single point in time. These data points can be helpful; however, they say little about the evolution of attitudes and experiences. That’s where panel surveys come in. Conducted over a predetermined period of time, these studies paint a more dynamic, three-dimensional picture.

To learn more about how brands can use panel surveys to refine marketing strategies, improve existing products, and even launch new products, keep reading.

What is a panel survey?

A panel survey is a type of market research study used to understand consumer opinions and behaviours –  how they change over time or at a single moment in time. Companies can then reference these insights to make data-driven decisions.

The goal of panel surveys varies. However, the primary goal of longitudinal studies is to collect quantitative and qualitative information that reflects how the target population’s attitudes evolve over time. For example, a company may use a panel survey to determine if ongoing efforts to improve customer service have been successful. Similarly, a company may use a panel survey to evaluate how customer opinions about prices have changed.

It’s important to note that panel surveys are different from survey panels. Though closely related, these terms are quite different. While a panel survey is the type of survey being conducted, a survey panel refers to a large group of consumers who have opted in or been invited to participate in various market research activities on an ongoing basis.

Why use a panel survey?

Surveys afford invaluable insight into the consumer psyche, allowing market researchers to understand how individuals feel about products, services, advertising, branding, and more. This information can then be referenced to make key decisions. After conducting a survey, company leadership may decide to increase prices or tweak marketing strategies.

Simply put, a survey is an incredibly useful tool if you need data about a particular group of consumers at a particular time and place. But if you want to learn more about how those consumers change over time and how your business decisions are impacting, or not impacting them, a panel survey is needed.

For example, let’s say a company wants to evaluate a customer’s satisfaction with a new washing machine. The company could send a survey directly after the customer purchases the machine. However, the information gleaned from this survey would probably be fairly one-dimensional. After all, the customer has only washed clothes a handful of times—if at all.

To receive better feedback, researchers should instead send panellists several surveys over a predetermined amount of time. This allows panellists to voice their opinions as they use the product more. For instance, a panellist may be pleased with the product initially, only to experience problems after three months of use which would not be captured in that initial survey but gives the company an opportunity to address the root causes of consumer dissatisfaction.

Other scenarios in which a market researcher may use a panel survey include:

  • To determine if brand awareness is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same
  • To understand how external factors (e.g. COVID-19, inflation, rising unemployment rates) are affecting consumer purchasing behaviour
  • To gauge customer loyalty over time
  • To assess customer satisfaction

Advantages and disadvantages of panel surveys

Panel surveys allow companies to identify market trends early on. For example, let’s say that a business conducts a panel survey to assess consumers’ willingness to pay for a particular product (i.e., price testing). As time goes on, they may notice that consumers are becoming more or less willing to spend a certain amount of money on said product. In response, the company can adjust prices accordingly.

Other benefits of panel surveys include:

  • High-Quality Data at Scale: Rather than base decisions solely observed behaviour or owned data, market researchers can cull insights from thousands of robust data points collected at single moment in time, or over several weeks, months, or years from hundreds or thousands of global consumers. Using an audience network with enough reach and scale can ensure representation of nearly any market.
  • More Cost-Effective and Efficient: Panel surveys are incredibly cost-effective and efficient compared to surveys conducted in-person, via phone, or via mail. Panellists can easily access the questionnaire via the internet or their panellist portal via a phone app, completing it at their leisure. Market researchers then receive the results instantly and don’t need to worry about manually processing the information.

Alas, panel surveys have disadvantages as well. Drawbacks include:

  • Lack of Some Representation: Since these surveys are conducted online, panellists in markets with minimal internet penetration will be challenging to reach. As a result, your data may not be entirely representative of the total population you’re trying to research. To that end, if your survey isn’t screen agnostic, you may be excluding mobile users who are making up an increasing proportion of survey respondents as well – or in markets where the internet is predominately accessed via mobile devices.
  • Presence of Fraud: Survey fraud is a growing concern. Entire datasets can be spoiled by lazy panellists who straight-line, skip questions, or enter gibberish into open fields. Dishonest and fraudulent panellists can also diminish data quality. Fortunately, much of this can be assuaged by anti-fraud software. Kantar is leading the way on this front with our proprietary anti-fraud tool, Qubed, a state-of-the-art system that identifies fraud using machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Panel surveys are also prone to panel conditioning. This phenomenon refers to how previous survey responses may influence future survey responses.

How to conduct a panel survey

If you want to gain insight into how consumer attitudes and behaviours change over time, then a panel survey is the most effective tool at your disposal. However, orchestrating these longitudinal studies requires foresight. Otherwise, you risk a poor execution that wastes valuable resources. Your company’s relationship with the consumer is also on the line.

Fortunately, you can manage an effective panel survey by following the seven steps below.

Step 1: Determine your demographic

The first step in conducting a panel survey is to determine your demographic. In other words, you must identify who, exactly, you will be surveying.

If you’re struggling with this step, ask yourself:

  • Who do I intend to sell products or services to?
  • Who are the people most in need of my products or services?
  • Who is the least likely to purchase from my company?

The answers to these questions will help you determine the demographics of your target audience. For example, the majority of your consumers may be college-aged women. Or, you may be catering to retired men over the age of 55.

Step 2: Determine survey timelines

You now need to establish when the survey will be sent to panellists. Though this step seems rather straightforward, when you send surveys makes a significant difference. A survey sent in the middle of the night, for instance, will yield a lower-quality dataset than a survey sent in the morning hours.

During this step you also need to establish how consistently you will survey panellists and for how long. For example, you may choose to survey respondents every month for a year. Or, you may opt for an annual survey for the next five years. The timeline all depends on your specific research objective.

Step 3: Design your survey

Next, you need to create an effective survey. Generally speaking, effective surveys are no longer than 12 minutes—though, under 10 minutes is even better. These questionnaires also ask simple, straightforward questions using clear and concise language. That means no confusing industry jargon or acronyms.

Step 4: Test the survey

It may be difficult to objectively assess whether or not your survey is user-friendly. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to have colleagues or other unbiased parties take your survey preemptively. These individuals will be able to identify red flags like confusing questions and redundancy.

Step 5: Assign respondents to your survey

The fifth step is to assign respondents to your survey. This essentially involves recruiting participants who are willing to complete surveys on an ongoing basis and, in doing so, provide information about their attitudes, opinions, and behaviour.

Unfortunately, this step can be quite difficult unless you collaborate with a market research partner like Kantar. As a leader in the industry, Kantar connects market researchers with a global network of more than 170 million panellists.

Step 6: Launch the survey

When your survey is ready, panellists will receive an email with a link to complete the questionnaire. It’s worth noting that you should establish a minimum number of acceptable responses based on your margin of error.

Step 7: Analyse the data

After an acceptable number of panellists have completed the survey, the last step is to analyse the data using data analysis tools. The insights gleaned during this process should help you answer your overarching research question. These insights will also prime the questions included in your next survey.

Example of a panel survey

There are many different scenarios in which a panel survey might prove advantageous. Consider the examples below:

Example 1

The Challenge: A large retail company needs consistent feedback on its brand to make decisions on business needs, new marketing initiatives, and product launches.

The Approach: To achieve this, market researchers survey target customers quarterly. The market researchers ensure that their sample size is large enough to be representative of the population. They also use programming tools designed and tested to engage online audiences, using questions that are screen agnostic. This data is subsequently funnelled to an easily-digestible dashboard that quickly visualises results. Company executives use this dashboard to make efficient and effective marketing decisions.

Example 2

The Challenge: An international software development company wants to gauge customer satisfaction with an application as it's updated.

The Approach: To assess how customer satisfaction changes over time, market researchers develop a panel survey with regard to survey design best practices. Surveys are then sent to women under the age of 30—the key demographic. After data from the initial survey is gathered and analysed, market researchers continue to send surveys to those same women every month for six months. The information collected helps software developers determine which changes have been effective and which have not.

Learn more about how the Kantar Profiles Audience Network can catalyse the panel research process

Panel surveys can be an effective means of evaluating how consumer opinions and behaviours shift over time. However, managing the moving parts involved with these longitudinal studies can be intimidating. Fortunately, the Kantar Profiles Audience Network is here to simplify, streamline, and scale how companies manage panel surveys.

As a leader in the market research industry, we connect companies with more than 170 million research-ready panellists across the world. Our state-of-the-art network also allows market researchers to filter based on profiling attributes. In return, you can rest easy knowing that your sample is representative of your target population.

Interested in getting started? Speak to our award-winning survey design team to learn how we can help you manage panel surveys.

Subscribe for survey design best practices

Interested in learning more about designing effective online surveys? Fill out the form below to receive a monthly research tip on online survey design, sampling, and connecting data. You'll also be notified when new Online Survey Training Modules are released.

Get in touch
circular light data
Market-leading access to a quality panel
Gain a deeper understanding of people, with speed and at scale, using the global Kantar Profiles Audience Network and online data collection and connection services.
Learn more