Using Market Panels
(Return to Market Panel graphic )
  1. The difficulties with traditional market research
    1. A classically structured market research program costs enough ($30-60K) that it usually undertaken infrequently, perhaps every two years or so.
    2. As an infrequent event, the staff never really learns to work with market feedback in their program development; they only deal with market data as a special effort when the research is done.
    3. The complexity of the task (sample selection, question design, data analysis) tease the staff into the role of "audience", waiting for the report to be delivered rather than being fully engaged in the enterprise.
    4. As a major project, it can be disruptive to normal staff activities rather than becoming a normal staff activity.
    5. Due to its scope, it is primarily a one-way conversation. If you decide afterwards that you should have asked a critical follow-up question, there is no option to "go back" and get the additional information.
  2. The Market Panel alternative
    1. Each significant service population of the MFC defines a market panel, that is, we would cultivate a group of 200-500 people who are representative of that target group.
      1. The panel can be built through a variety of methods
        (Keep in mind that there is no way to secure a purely random sample in market research; any method of sampling creates certain biases, mostly as a result of the respondents self-selection in or out of the sample.)
        1. Purchasing a relevant list
        2. Direct solicitation at MFC events
        3. Direct solicitation at any public event (such as pick-ups at elementary schools in a particular zip code, street festivals, grocery stores, etc.)
        4. Asking MFC members to nominate non-members that meet certain criteria
      2. Once built, the panel can be used to expand or enrich the panel
        1. We can ask existing panel members to suggest others they know that meet the relevant criteria.
      3. Each survey might include one demographic question (number of children, zip code, years of residence in the area, income level, etc.) as a way to test the representativeness of the sample.
    2. Panel members would be invited to serve for about a year, agreeing to respond to a 2-3 minute survey once every month or so.
      1. The survey would typically be 2-4 questions, contained on a single screen.
    3. Given its structure, it is possible to have a virtual conversation with the panel.
      1. You need not survey the entire panel each time. One month you might survey just half of the panel, and then deliver a follow-up question the next month to the other half. The panel members only see one survey, but the MFC gets multiple inputs.
    4. Every communication with panel members is an opportunity to market MFC 's brand. The style and graphic feel of the survey is a chance to underscore MFC 's message. It could include the vision statement or just name the Centers of Excellence. Could include a link to program listings.
    5. Since market panels can be queried frequently, the staff can learn how to "think with market data" as a part of their normal program development.
      1. The data analysis strategies supported are modest and intelligible to most folks.
      2. The sequential or iterative nature of the research allows for data to contribute to all stages of program development and delivery.
  3. The technological infrastructure
    The needed technology is all fairly low-level and inexpensive.
    1. Excel spreadsheets can handle the panel membership lists.
    2. An online list management service, such as MailChimp, can broadcast emails to large numbers of respondents without clogging up MFC 's mail handler. The messages (invitations, announcements, surveys, etc.) can be formatted in HTML either using the list management's editor or developed by MFC 's webmaster independently and then uploaded.
      1. They can deliver an HTML formatted message to hundreds or thousands of respondents directly from the Internet rather than through MFC 's mail handler.
      2. If the email includes any URL's (such a survey or a relevant page on the MFC website), the number of click-throughs can be tracked as a measure of penetration.
    3. An online survey company, such as SurveyMonkey , can handle the actual administration and coarse data analysis.
    4. The framing of questions requires professional expertise, but it is required only periodically. The ongoing maintenance of the system could be managed by an intern or part-time staff. Some of the work could be handled by Marketing & Communication staff (such as HTML formatting of announcements).
    5. Excel should be sufficient for typical data analysis.
    6. I would suggest purchasing InspireData, a relatively inexpensive program for data exploration that is quite easy to use (it was written for high school students).
  4. The limitations of the market panel strategy
    1. It does not allow for more sophisticated data analysis, such as regression modeling or sensitivity analysis.
    2. A classical study would allow for cross-tabulation of the respondents into particular segments (such as step families with 2+ young children). Using panel definitions, the panel itself provides the major segmentation of the data; there is only a limited ability to do additional segmentation. There would be no easy way to build a segmentation across panels.
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