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    How to Create An Effective User Panel to Inform Product Development and Marketing

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    Market research and usability testing are often the first initiatives to drop down the priority list  when budgets are tight. We’ve seen, however, that creating a research user panel to inform your product development or product marketing will likely be one of the best decisions you make this year. Industry studies have shown that investing in user research can save time, money, and customer support efforts.1

    Creating a market research user panel doesn’t have to be expensive or a time drain. It does, however, require a plan and someone to execute it. At Vodori, we assembled a user panel to get feedback on improvements to our promotional review software, Pepper Flow. We found the following guidelines helpful in setting up an effective research panel.

    Identify your audience

    It is important to decide what types of users you want to recruit for your panel. Is it your key target audience or do you also need information from influencers? When forming our market research panel, we focused on soliciting feedback from the core buyers of our product as well as some influencers. To recruit these users, we invited current customers and prospects by email and attended conferences that were heavily attended by our target audience. We set up product demos at the conferences and made sure to ask everyone who saw the demo, if appropriate, to join our research panel. It was gratifying to see how excited people were to join and share their experiences and opinions.

    Another recruitment strategy is getting help from other people in your company who interact with customers. Your company’s sales reps and customer support colleagues are often the first point of contact with customers and can be a great resource in helping you recruit panel members. Traditional recruitment methods, such as online surveys or social media, can also be effective. Just be sure to use a screener survey to vet users coming in through these channels to ensure that they are properly qualified. It is important to recruit a diverse customer panel so plan to get about 10 people per user segment.

    Set goals and program parameters

    What types of information do you need to gather from your participants?

    Do you need to gain feedback on marketing initiatives, better understand your customer’s business goals, or inform product development? Generally, research falls into two categories, qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative research primarily explores your user’s opinions and behavior, while quantitative research is focused on collecting empirical, quantifiable data. For example, if you wanted to get more insight into the perception and effectiveness of your company’s brand identity, you might try qualitative research methods like focus groups or interviews. For Pepper Flow, we are interested in quantitative data, so we often use surveys and online usability activities to test new product features. It is common (and encouraged!) to conduct both types of research with your panel. A key benefit of getting feedback from your customer panel is not only understanding how they think and react but the underlying reasons why. Make sure to create a list of topics from which you are looking for customer feedback and prioritize them. You may have a variety of goals for your panel, but having a plan will ensure that you make the most of your customer’s expertise.

    How many users do you need?

    Examine the type of feedback you need to determine the size of your panel. Market research panels are a great way to conduct quantitative research, which often requires a higher number of participants to ensure statistically significant results. We targeted about 50 total users for our research panel because we understood that not every panel member would participate in all research opportunities. Depending on the research topic and whether it was qualitative or quantitative insight needed, we generally planned for 10-20 respondents per research opportunity. We often found that once we received responses beyond 6-8 people, we saw similar trends in the responses.

    Determine how often to connect with your panel.

    Setting up the initial cadence of how frequently to interact with your users may seem daunting. You might be hesitant to contact them too frequently for fear of disrupting their schedules or annoying them. We’ve found that offering bi-monthly research opportunities strikes a nice balance. If some panel members miss the first opportunity, we hope that they will participate in the second. The bi-monthly schedule also gives you time to adequately plan each research opportunity, collect feedback, and analyze the results. If you are planning to incentivize your panel participants with a gift, expect a higher response rate. You also can assume that if people were excited to join your panel, they will not be bothered by more frequent communication. Once you determine a consistent schedule, don’t be afraid to reach out to certain users for follow-up interviews. One of the benefits of a customer panel is that it greatly reduces recruitment time and provides you with continuous engagement opportunities.

    Build a relationship with your users

    Offering an incentive motivates your panel members to continue to respond and provide insightful feedback. Check if your company policy allows you to pay/gift your customers and be sure it’s clear that you are doing market research as rules for compensation around market research are generally unique. Meet with your internal compliance committee or legal affairs team to get sign-off and provide any guidelines on how much you are legally allowed to offer. Incentive amount and disbursement frequency depend on how often you will be interacting with your customer panel and the time commitment for each research opportunity. Amazon or Starbucks $10-$20 gift cards are a great way to reward low-effort research opportunities, like surveys. Time-intensive activities, such as an hour-long focus group or customer interview, merit higher rewards. For Pepper Flow, we planned to reach out to our users frequently but did not want to continuously distribute gift cards so we set up a tiered reward system. Panel members earn credits  towards an Amazon gift card for every survey they complete and the gift card will be awarded at the end of the year. Frequent responders receive a bonus. We use these incentives to show our appreciation to our panel participants and the end-of-year disbursement helps ensure that we will get a quality response rate.

    As you conduct research, don’t forget to share your research findings with your users. Ultimately, creating a user panel is about building a strong relationship with your customers. Your panel has consistently been providing feedback and are likely curious about how it will be used. At the panel’s conclusion, plan to send out follow-up communications that thank panel members for participating and share how feedback will affect your company’s product, marketing efforts or brand. At Vodori, we’ve worked hard to incorporate our panel’s insights into the design of Pepper Flow. We can confidently say that our panel has given us invaluable insights that have shaped the direction of the product. If you are reading this and you’re on our panel, thank you! We know that creating a market research user panel in your organization can have the same positive effect.

    If you’d like to learn more about Pepper Flow or get help developing a user panel for your company, contact us at


    Annalise Ludtke

    Senior Manager, Marketing Communications at Vodori

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