In recent posts, we’ve compared research panels and communities and shared steps on how to create a research panel. For this post, we’re diving into Bellomy’s own proprietary research panel, SmartLab.
Panel research that ensures high quality data
As a market research company, Bellomy understands the value of proprietary online market research panels. Whether you're a business-to-business or business-to-consumer company, having access to a research panel can deliver fast insights into the attitudes, behaviors, and decision-making processes of your customers, and we wanted to offer clients that valuable resource. With this mind, in 2014 we established SmartLab, a general population (aka “GenPop”) online panel for consumer market research. Its members represent a diverse cross-section of the U.S. population on tap and ready to share opinions.
Feedback that mirrors US demographics
With this type of online panel, the aim is to mirror the demographics of the general population to ensure that study findings are relevant to the overall market. Accordingly, we manage SmartLab membership so that it approximately matches the U.S. population in terms of demographics, including age, gender, race, family structure, income, ethnicity, education, and geography.
Research projects determine the target audience
Each research project’s key objective for data collection determines which panel members are invited to participate. A simple initiative to gain insights on general consumer behavior might have broad criteria while more specific research would require targeted participation. For example, a study on everyday shopping trends would invite a more wide-ranging demographic than one on mobile phone use among teens.
Businesses tapping the online panel for research needs
Approximately 15 Bellomy clients regularly use SmartLab for panel research. These clients represent businesses across sectors, including consumer packaged goods, retail, automotive, financial services, utilities, food services and technology. Typically, these are ongoing, long-term Bellomy clients who partner with us in additional capacities.
Now and then, Bellomy receives an inquiry for ad hoc access to SmartLab services. If we determine that our research panel is a suitable source for the proposed project, we will work with the business on its initiative. Any entity with a need can potentially use SmartLab — in fact, it can serve as a good introduction to Bellomy offerings.
How clients use our online panel
Access to a research panel is a valuable resource that can benefit a business in many ways. From the client perspective, tapping into SmartLab is a seamless experience that doesn’t carry the expense and responsibility of maintaining a dedicated panel. Among SmartLab’s primary advantages are access, speed, and flexibility, so naturally, our clients take advantage of those qualities. Additionally, the panel works for qualitative and quantitative types of research.
Insights & research confirmation
When a client needs fast, accurate insights (perhaps for a business proposal with a tight deadline), the panel can field a survey with results in hours. Clients also access the panel to confirm the accuracy of information they’re including in a presentation, white paper, or webinar.
Clients use the panel to gauge interest in a new concept, product, or service they’re considering introducing to market.
White space exploration
Clients use the panel to identify and investigate untapped or underserved areas of the market where there might be opportunities for innovation and new product development.
User experience sessions
Clients collect panel feedback on their overall experience and satisfaction using a product, system, or service.
Clients use the panel to go in-depth on discussions and forums with select members on specific topics, products, services, or concepts.
Clients use the panel for mystery shopping (also known as secret shopping) to measure quality or compliance or collect other information about products and services. (Typically, the establishment being evaluated is unaware of the shopper’s identity and purpose, hence the “mystery.”)
Our panel helps clients evaluate new products, providing feedback on user experience, functionality, and appeal to ensure market readiness.
Clients present visual compilations to our panel to elicit emotional responses. This helps them refine branding, design, and marketing strategies.
Panel members provide authentic video feedback on client products and services. These insights can be analyzed for sentiment, specific feedback and even non-verbal communication, providing insights that go beyond what text-based feedback can offer.
Clients tap the panel to collect preferences and flavor profiles for food and beverage products in development.
Panelists keep digital records of their experiences with products over time, supplying clients with detailed behavioral insights and usage patterns.
In-depth interviews (IDIs)
Clients conduct one-on-one conversations through our panel for nuanced understanding of attitudes and motivations and detailed feedback on specific topics.
Incidence checks (aka feasibility checks)
When a client is planning an activity with a very specific audience that might be challenging to reach, we do a preliminary check to determine whether our panel population can feasibly meet the study’s criteria. These checks are typically quick (often only one question), but they’re important because they ensure the efficiency and accuracy of any resulting research.
As a step in getting a new product to market, a CPG retailer pulled a micro-community of 300 panelists from SmartLab’s population, giving them ready access to prescreened, engaged consumers ready to weigh in on all aspects of the new product, including competitive intel, positioning, product attributes, package design, product messaging, store placement, and more.
A retail client that maintains its own research panel with us will sometimes also launch the same survey to SmartLab for a read on the general population’s response compared to that of its dedicated panel.
Tapping our proprietary panel internally
Bellomy clients aren’t alone in recognizing the benefits and value of the SmartLab research panel. We put it to work several ways internally, as well.
To align with current industry recommendations and standards, Bellomy was updating gender and ethnicity questions on our research screeners. (Screeners are a set of preliminary questions used to identify and select respondents who fit the specific criteria needed for a particular study or survey.) We tapped SmartLab panelists to test different versions of these questions.
Sometimes when a client’s dedicated research panel doesn’t meet necessary quotas for an activity, we can supplement with SmartLab recruits.
Sometimes we reach out to SmartLabbers to get a general read on things. We checked in with the panel throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to gauge consumer reactions, feelings and behaviors. And we often reach out around holidays (Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, New Years, etc.) to learn how our panelists are celebrating. We sometimes share findings with our community of client-partners and with followers on our social feeds.
Variety makes the online research panel grow fonder
From crafts to kombucha, the SmartLab online market research panel fielded approximately 50 different research projects in 2023. The multitude of topics, industries and new products SmartLabbers are exposed to makes for a rich panelist experience. The sky is the limit when it comes to what we can ask our panelists — they are always game for anything we might throw at them!
Activity and variety are vital to keeping members engaged, which in turn is vital to maintaining a healthy panel. Many SmartLab members are longtime participants, marking five years or longer with the panel.
“The interaction with others and sharing ideas and concepts was very stimulating,” said one panel member (male, 70, white, Southern region) when reflecting on an activity related to reusable shopping bags. (Yes, of course we tapped SmartLabbers for this article!)
Panel members feel valued
While many panel members are motivated by the opportunity to earn incentives and rewards, many also feel strongly that their voice has real value not only to study sponsors but also to other consumers.
“I love giving opinions and feedback on new products and ideas to help brands and other consumers,” said one (female, 45, white, Western region).
“I enjoy sharing my thoughts and opinions and knowing I am making a difference in the world and the products that I use and purchase in everyday life,” said another (male, 45, Hispanic, Western region), who, by the way, has been a member for the 10-year life of the panel.
A direct channel to VOC
SmartLab’s engaged panelists breathe life into research, helping turn studies into strategies. An invaluable resource, SmartLab is a gateway to the voice of the consumer, ensuring every decision is guided by real-world feedback and keeping businesses, and Bellomy itself, ahead of the curve.