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What is a panel survey?

The definition of a panel survey is a longitudinal study that measures the behavior of people over time, including their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Survey respondents may include customers, consumers, employees, patients, voters and other people who provide valuable insights.

The same target audience is surveyed at different points in time to better understand how respondents’ attitudes and behaviors change. Online surveys, interviews, questionnaires and even barcode scanning can be used for data collection. 

The panel survey can use a quantitative approach that captures numerical data or a qualitative methodology that captures subjective information like thoughts and opinions. The approach depends on the nature of the study and the desired results.

“Panel surveys” are frequently confused with “survey panels”. A “panel survey” is the type of survey conducted.  A “survey panel” is a group of people that have been assembled, filled out a profile, and are willing to share their opinions. Many market research surveys use survey panels to target the exact respondents they need to reach.

Why use a panel survey?

Panel surveys are often used to understand how consumer attitudes change over time, often for products and services or brand positioning.

Companies may also use panel studies to understand managerial performance, reaction to new policies, or understand how to improve employee engagement. News media outlets use panel surveys for data collection regarding public policies or elections.

Panel surveys track changes in behavior over time by conducting similar surveys to the target audience multiple times over several weeks, months, or years. Panel surveys provide more information than a survey conducted at one point in time.

One of the benefits of a panel survey is understanding how variables impact the views and behavior of survey panelists. For example, a survey at one point in time may indicate that a single variable has a big impact on consumer behavior. However, a longitudinal panel survey will show the true extent of that single variable’s impact over time.

How do panel surveys work?

People agree to participate in surveys by signing up with a company that conducts surveys. These respondents agree to provide their demographic data that is used in each study. A survey panelist will be part of a larger group that represents a wide range of social backgrounds, interests, age, employment, income levels, and other demographics that are of interest to researchers.

Many companies, including those from consumer products, news media organizations, market research firms, and government agencies, and other industry sectors all want to tap into what is on the minds of their target survey respondents. 

Respondent behaviors and insights will help influence what product or service will enter the market next. They will also impact what kinds of policies and procedures companies will implement to improve their operations or improve employee performance.

In a panel survey, the audience is surveyed multiple times. Each set of surveys is called a wave. A panel study will have several waves where each panel member is asked the same or similar questions to understand their behavior and how it changes. For instance, a 3 wave study is a survey conducted at 3 different points in time.

What can you expect if you conduct a panel survey? 

If your panel survey uses one-on-one surveys or focus groups, you’ll work with a market research firm that has access to the people who fit your target audience profile and desired demographics. Depending on how many people need to be interviewed, it can take a long time to recruit the audience, conduct the survey, and report the results.

If you choose an online panel survey, you will work with a provider to administer the survey. For instance, if your survey is about your company, you’ll work with the firm to provide your employees’ information so they can conduct the survey.

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A growing number of organizations are choosing to use an online survey to gather information from their target audience. If you choose to use online surveys, you will conduct multiple waves of surveys at different times. This will help you gather data more quickly than one-on-one questions or focus groups.

Here’s the 7 steps you need to know about online surveys:

  1. Select your demographic data. What are the ideal characteristics for your survey panelist? Are you surveying consumers, clients, employees, patients, or another group? Choose the demographics that work best for your panel survey. Make sure you choose a company with access to international panel members if you need to reach a global audience.
  2. Respondents are assigned to surveys. The survey provider will assign surveys to a pool of survey participants that match your ideal audience demographics.
  3. Urgent? Mark your online survey panel as High Priority. Some market research firms and survey companies will allow you to mark your survey as urgent to quickly get it to survey panelists.
  4. Panelists are notified. When surveys are ready to go, panelists get an email and can click the link to get started. As soon as enough target respondents are reached, the online survey company will prevent additional panelists from joining. You’ll get the results you need from an audience with a balanced demographic profile.
  5. Panelists take the survey. Respondents, based on your target audience, take your survey. 
  6. The survey is closed. When enough panelists have completed your survey, the survey is closed to prevent additional data that may impact your desired results.
  7. You get a detailed report. Once the survey is completed, you’ll get the detailed information you need to understand what’s on your target audience’s mind. Panel surveys allow you to compare these valuable reports over time, so you can understand how your audiences’ behavior is changing.
Aided brand awareness: sparkling water category

The process is easy and gives you the responses you need in a short period of time. If you need help interpreting the report data, your online survey provider will have resources to help you understand what is really happening with your respondents.

How to design a panel survey

Panel surveys are designed to uncover the behavior of specific groups of people. The panel survey is designed to focus on the specific variables, often demographics and other patterns, that will influence the respondent’s behavior.

For instance, let us look at a survey example of how many consumers use shaving cream vs. shaving gel. A company may want this data because they are considering improving an existing product, repositioning a brand, or selling a new product. 

In this example the company wanted to test which variables, like the consumer’s age and how often they would use the product. 

Respondents were asked, "How often do you personally use the following personal hygiene products: shaving foam and shaving gel?"

The panel survey was divided into the following categories based on demographics:

Gender and location:

  • Live in the US
  • Males

Age ranges:

  • Age 18 to 29
  • Age 30 to 59
  • Age 59 and older

Type of product preferred:

  • Shaving cream
  • Shaving gel

Frequency of use:

  • Every day
  • Multiple times per week
  • Once per week
  • 2-3 times per month
  • Once a month
  • Less often
  • Never

Based on this actual survey, it showed that about one-third of all male respondents used shaving cream or shaving gel multiple times a week. Nearly one-quarter using the product daily.  

This type of survey offers valuable insights on how to price, position, and sell the product to US males who use shaving creams and gels. It showed who used the product and how often they used it.

If you ask a similar question over time, you can determine if consumers are using more or less of the products and which age groups are driving the trend. These insights can provide information on market gaps and new product opportunities.

Advantages of panel surveys for your next launch

Panel surveys have several advantages over other types of surveys. Because they use a longitudinal methodology of measuring data over time, they capture a broader range of panel member thoughts, feelings, and behavior and provide three key advantages.

Advantage #1: Panel surveys provide better information

A panel survey allows researchers to collect a large, diverse amount of data. By surveying your target audience at different times, you can analyze many data points that will improve your understanding of your study hypothesis.

If your goal is to better understand consumer’s behavior, panel survey data will help to better position new products, improve existing products, or reposition your brand. Panel surveys and the data you collect over time will also lead to identifying changes in market trends early, helping you to gain a competitive edge.

More information can lead to better decisions and focusing your resources on the ideas that your customers will buy.

Advantage #2: Panel surveys have less respondent “fatigue”

You want to collect a lot of data from your target audience. However, your panel members often don’t have the time and focus to answer a long set of survey questions. 

In general, the longer the survey, the greater your chances of getting poor quality data. Longer survey questions can wear out the respondent, making them less focused. They may provide incomplete or inaccurate answers because they are tired or bored.

Shorter surveys, performed in several waves over time, will generally provide higher quality data. Respondents have more energy and focus for shorter surveys that result in better information.

Advantage #3: Panel surveys are cost-effective and efficient

Each panel survey wave can be performed quickly and cost-effectively, especially with online surveys. Traditional one-on-one interviews are time consuming for both the researcher and the respondent, especially if performed with each respondent over time.

The same or similar questions are often used in a panel survey. Researchers save time because they don’t have to create new questions for each survey launched. They also save time by surveying the same target audience, eliminating the need to find a new audience for each survey.

Online surveys are an efficient way to reach your target audience, saving time and money. Respondents can easily sign up and complete the survey. Researchers benefit by gathering lots of data over time to help them reach their goal of understanding current consumer attitudes, market trends, and evolving behavior.

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Examples of a panel survey

Panel surveys are used to gain insights on consumer behavior, business performance, and other issues across many industries. Below are three examples of panel study questions and how they can be used to understand common issues..

Example 1: Evaluating customer service

Below are common questions to ask survey panelists about their Customer Service experience.

  1. How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?
  2. Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with our company? 
  3. Which of the following words would you use to describe our products? (Reliable, high quality, overpriced, impractical, useful, ineffective)
  4. How well do our products meet your needs? 
  5. How would you rate the quality of the product? 
  6. How would you rate the value for your money for this product? 
  7. How responsive have we been to your concerns? 
  8. How long have you been a customer of our company? 
  9. How likely are you to buy our products again?
  10. Do you have other comments or concerns?

When asked over the course of time, the responses will indicate whether a company’s changes to their customer service policies are improving attitudes towards their brand. The panel survey is a great opportunity to see what’s working and what’s not in your Customer Service department.

Example 2:  Product and service price testing

Panel surveys are a great way to see how your pricing will help or hurt your marketing mix. Below are survey questions panelists answer about pricing.

  1. How often do you purchase this product category? 
  2. Which of the following brands do you typically buy? 
  3. How much do you typically pay for this category? 
  4. How satisfied are you with the amount of money you typically pay for this product category? 
  5. If the product was priced at $6.99, would you say it is 
  6. If the product was priced at $9.99, would you say it is? 

These questions allow you to customize the product and price examples that are tailored to your ideal audience. When panelists are surveyed over time, you’ll be able to adjust your pricing to changes in consumer behavior, economic trends, or market shifts.

Example 3:  Understanding employee motivation and performance

Panel surveys aren’t just limited to consumer behavior. They also provide insights into your employees’ engagement levels. Below is a list of questions to ask your employees with responses varying from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”

  1. When at work I am completely focused on my job duties.
  2. I am determined to give my best effort every day. 
  3. I am often involved in my work and the day goes by quickly. 
  4. I get excited about going to work.
  5. I feel completely involved in my work.
  6. I am inspired to meet my goals at work.

The answers to these questions provide valuable insights to understand how to attract, retain, and motivate your employees to better performance levels.

Employees can also provide insights to their supervisors, giving you valuable insights into performance and growth. Common questions include:

  1. How likely is it that you would recommend your supervisor to a colleague?
  2. How easy is it to get help from your supervisor?
  3. How often does your supervisor give you feedback about your work?
  4. How improved is your performance after getting feedback from your supervisor?
  5. How effective is the training you get from your supervisor?

Panel surveys conducted over time will help improve your employee training, targeting key areas for improvement. Your internal changes will be quickly evaluated, so you can act quickly to capture your workforce's potential.

Sending a panel survey with SurveyMonkey

SurveyMonkey makes it easy to design and send online panel surveys to your target audience. SurveyMonkey's Audience Panel will help you get responses from the exact groups you need to evaluate. 

We believe that better information leads to better decision making. Our panel survey platform makes it easy for you to collect the data you need for consumer insights, employee perspectives, and other groups so you save time, money and make better decisions.

You can find survey participants by the demographics that are right for your product or service, including:

  • Age
  • Geographic location
  • Education level
  • Socio-economic profile / income
  • Professional characteristics
  • And more

A survey panel will help you to quickly reach the right audience. You’ll get the feedback and reporting you need to gauge and opinions over time. Browse some of the audiences you can send your survey to using SurveyMonkey's Audience panel:

General population

General Population (Medium Sample)

  • All Genders (Census)
  • All Ages (Full Census)
  • All Incomes
  • 500 Responses, United States (USA) - SurveyMonkey
Full-time employees

Full-Time Employees

  • All Genders (Census)
  • All Ages (Basic Census)
  • All Incomes
  • Employed Full-time
  • 250 Responses, United States (USA) - SurveyMonkey
Consumer shopper

Consumer Shoppers

  • All Genders (Census)
  • All Ages (Basic Census)
  • All Incomes
  • Primary Decision Maker in Household
  • 250 Responses, United States (USA) - SurveyMonkey

A one-time survey often is not enough to give you the data you need for big decisions. Panel surveys, conducted over a few months or longer, give you a competitive edge. You’ll see directly what your ideal audience is thinking and buying.

The SurveyMonkey Audience Panel is right for you if you need:

  • Quick feedback on market behavior
  • Validation that your big ideas will lead to a big payoff
  • Insights on why customers prefer one brand over another
  • Employee insights to develop a more engaged workforce
  • Immediate insights on changing economic and social trends

SurveyMonkey is a trusted provider in the field of online surveys, giving you the data you need when you need it. Whether you are a pro or new to online surveys, we will give you the support you need to get started on your next panel survey.

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