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Monday, May 30, 2011

WHEN TO USE A CONSUMER PANEL VERSUS IN-HOUSE LISTS


Imagine for a moment that you’re making a trip to, say, Japan. The travel agent has given you two options, and the only way the two itineraries differ significantly is in where the requisite 12-hour layover occurs. One is an isolated tropical atoll with a charming village, while the other stops in a bustling city. Both flights will get you there, but which suits your preferences best?

One of the first decisions you’ll make for your AYTM online survey project is where to source your sample. Will you use the AYTM panel or provide your own list?  AYTM is very flexible, so like our imaginary trip, either option will get you there. The choice is entirely up to you. How to choose? Consider the following pros and cons of using our panel versus your own list.

BENEFITS OF USING THE AYTM PANEL
  • Convenience:  Because the AYTM panel is integrated with our platform, this is a very efficient way to start data collection.  Once your survey is programmed and you’ve selected your population criteria [image 1] you’re ready to launch, and data collection is usually done within a day or two. 
  • Ample Selects: The other benefit of using AYTM is the large number of selects—we call them “house tags”-- in our panel.  Not only do we have standard items such as gender, age, income level and so on, we also have 168 other options, such as:
    • Been on a cruise
    • Dog owner
    • Facebook user
    • Gamer
    • Home Wifi
    • Leases car
    • Local voter
    • RV owner

Why are ample selects so important? Because the ability to select specific demographic and psychographic variables ensures that you send your survey to the right target market. 
If AYTM house tags don’t fit your specific need, you can craft any psychographic prescreening question to custom craft who gets to answer your survey.  Since our allegory involves Japan, you could for instance survey only those who pass the screening question “Do you eat sashimi at least twice a month?”


BENEFITS OF USING IN-HOUSE LISTS
Cost: It may be free, since you won’t have to purchase panel access.  Although AYTM panel costs are very low, compared to standard market research pricing, it’s still a cost you could avoid by using your own list.
Proprietary Information: If you’re interested in surveying a very particular audience (say your current customers or people who subscribe to your newsletter) then obviously you have those lists and AYTM does not.

RISKS OF IN-HOUSE LISTS
With the exception of surveying a specific population that’s unique to your organization, your own in-house lists may have some shortcomings.  Be honest and ask yourself the following questions: 
  • Is your list accurate?  If 20 percent of your email addresses are out of date, that’s going to cause delay and could lead to an insufficient final sample size.
  • Are you likely to get a good response rate?  If you’ve done surveys to your list before, you may know what percent of the survey invitation recipients are likely to respond; otherwise, this can be a real wildcard.  Response rates can vary from as little as one-half of one percent to as high as 40 percent, but higher rates are extremely rare.  Be honest with yourself.  If you use your own in-house lists, will you get a decent response?
  • Do you have enough demographic and psychographic information in your list to know that you are sending invitations to the right people?  If you don’t have enough data (say, income level), you can’t select your target, and you may not want to turn people off by having them opt in to take a survey only to be rejected. In addition, you might not want to tip off your customers that you’re specifically interested in certain income ranges.  Again, this is something an AYTM panel can take care of.  If you use the AYTM tool to survey your own list, AYTM allows you to auto-build-in demographic questions that allow for some nifty analysis on the survey results page.
  • Do you plan on doing a lot of surveys? Be very careful not to over-survey your in-house lists.  Treat them with respect.  A good rule of thumb is no more than three surveys a year per participant. There are researchers who advocate that it’s okay to send more, and it varies somewhat by the target market, but think about it for yourself.  If one company was sending you a survey every month, would that start to feel a bit onerous?  Perhaps a little presumptuous of your time? 


Ask yourself some honest questions before you decide whether to use an in-house list or a panel for your online survey project.  Like our flight to Japan, both might get you to your destination, but they offer a very different experience along the way.  

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