What is a Market Research Panel?

Market research panels are comprised of people meeting certain demographic criterion. They are commonly used for obtaining business information about product sales and are sometimes mistakenly referred to as focus groups . There are two forms, one for the consumer market, and the other for collecting business-to-business (B2B) purchasing information. Consumer market research panels are most recognized and known to the public, as many people may have been asked to participate in some manner at some time in their lives.

Market research panels are comprised of pre-recruited groups of people who have agreed to participate, so although the selection method to approach these people may be random, the group is not random in that they are all chosen from the group of people who want to do this task. Panels can be chosen from a target audience segment, current customers, potential customers, or any other particular group the originator of the study wants to include. Obviously, it would make more sense to include those people who may have some interest in the product under study, because they would be most likely to have opinions about the produce in question. The actual panel activity may include focus groups, surveys, or tests. Members generally are given some type of incentive reward for their participation, which could be cash or a gift.

The consumer panel group usually is a good cross-section of the population. They may be asked to keep a diary, answer questions online, or attend a focus group meeting. Less commonly, there may be a visit to their actual homes for research of buying habits. These panels run over some period of time. Surveys and focus groups differ somewhat. The focus group involves more opinion and emotional descriptions, where the survey is just a matter of answering pre-formed questions. A focus group will have a facilitator to direct the questioning and take a record of answers.

The general consumer market research focuses on buying habits of consumers, while business related research focuses on products sold in the business-to-business arena. Research can investigate behavioral factors that influence buying decisions, or emotions, or other subjective factors. To do this research, it is necessary to collect facts and opinions in an objective manner, in an orderly process. The objective is to pull out from the panel what people want to buy, more than just how they feel about a particular product. Once the wants are discovered, they can be incorporated into products.

A market research panel study may be ordered by the manufacturer of an item, or by a retail organization trying to determine what products to add to their inventory list. Usually management or marketing departments are the instigators of such research. They may devise their own groups, or call upon marketing research companies who specialize in this type of research on a regular basis.

There are two types of research, qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative research is more explorative, and uses smaller numbers of persons for focus groups, and interviews. The quantitative research is more random, and used to draw conclusions from tests and sampling. It will use higher numbers of respondents for surveys and questionnaire research methods.

Research involves collecting information, analysis, and interpreting data for the client. It is necessary to first define a problem, or the reason for ordering the study. Then it is necessary to determine what information is needed to obtain in order to work with the problem for improvement, and draw inferences between the two. After the panel answers, those findings must be interpreted, implications made, and the researchers draw up a set of recommendations to fix the problem or make improvements to the product to better meet consumer demand.

Business market research panels are more specifically oriented towards the world of business. There would be more questions or discussions about competition, government legislation, the market, the impact of the economy, and other factors that are related to that type of business. There would be more hard facts rather than the emotional aspects of business decision making. The business panels may be more specialized toward specific markets. Some market research firms have these specialized panels available on a regular basis, rather then creating them from scratch every time they are needed, and they may have many different types of specialized panels available to the business community.