Online Customer Panels

    April 11, 2007

Everyone knows about SurveyMonkey and Web analytics programs, but I heard about something new (at least to me) last week—online market research. I attended an AMA Webcast on Community Marketing on March 29 where one of the topics was how to attract online customer panels that provide high quality market research.

I’ve seen lots of focus groups before, but the market research is shallow—customers sit there for a couple of hours and react to some product concepts. I’ve also used customer panels, where you meet regularly with the same group of customers over a period of time, but getting the customers together is very expensive.

Online customer panels seems like a great new way to get some of the benefits of focus groups and customer panels without a lot of the drawbacks. Panels can be long-term, so you can get very deep research. Customers can interact with each other, as in a focus group. It costs very little, compared to other methods.

Del Monte Foods operates the “I love my dog” site to gain deeper consumer understanding and to generate new ideas. Customers can register to participate and must sign in to get access to the site. Del Monte tries out their own ideas on the panel, but also solicits customer ideas for new products or improvements to existing products. They also conduct research on unmet needs and how customers care for their pets.

One question is whether competitors might register, pretending to be a pet owner, and get access to the market research that Del Monte is paying for. Gala Amoroso, Del Monte’s Senior Market Research Manager says, “Competitors can lurk, but they give themselves away with too many questions.” She also noted that sometimes Del Monte takes valuable conversations offline to keep insights private.

Regardless of any problems, this seems like something worth checking into for some marketers. Some agencies already have online panels that they can provide access to, but it looks like large companies, such as Del Monte, are growing their own. Everything else is going online, so why not market research?