Consumer panels are groups of customers or potential buyers of a product or service who provide companies with information to help them improve the marketing of their goods and services. This type of research can help companies get information they might not otherwise obtain from more objective data, but they can also produce less objective results. Understanding the pitfalls of using consumer panels can help you determine when and how to use them in your marketing activities.
Businesses use consumer panels for one-time research needs and longer-term tracking. One-time panels, often called focus groups, bring 10 to 12 people with a specific background together to answer questions and discuss specific questions in a free-form manner. They might discuss a product they use or one they haven’t used and are asked to sample. Longer-term consumer panels provide regular feedback, often on a monthly or quarterly basis, through a survey. This helps business track attitudes and behaviors over time.
One of the disadvantages of using consumer panels is the difficulty of getting a random sample, or a group of individuals who accurately reflect the type of consumer you need to study. To get the maximum benefit from a consumer panel, you will need to create a group with the same demographic characteristics, such as age, sex, race, income level, frequency of product use and product or service knowledge as your target customer. Work with your sales and marketing departments to develop the type of participant you want and make sure each person you invite fits the target profile.
Another problem with using consumer groups is that participants might begin to provide you with inaccurate feedback. This might be because they want to help you, they wish to continue to be asked to participate in your panels or they think they are now experts and start providing answers they think they should give rather than more truthful feedback.
Using consumer panels can be more expensive than tracking information by sales volumes, industry research or distribution channels. You will have to contact each consumer by mail, email, phone, text or other method, requiring staff time to manage your database. You might need to provide ongoing product samples or free services to participants. You will also need to analyze and interpret the data you get from your group.
If you use consumer panels for several months or even longer, you will likely have some participants drop out. If you try to cut costs by inviting just enough participants to give you the feedback you need, losing 10 percent or more of your group can decrease the accuracy and value of your results. If you try to add new members in midstream, you can further skew your results.