Using survey panels to engage hard-to-reach audiences

by Justin Bailey | published on September, 2020

Finding the market research sweet spot for financial services

Skyscrapers against a blue skyA few years ago, a client approached us about fielding their annual insights survey among financial advisors. We had previously collaborated on the survey and the latest iteration had grown longer and broader than in the past. It was now designed as several sections that covered the full gamut of the role of a financial advisor. This expanded survey scope was becoming onerous for respondents.

What's more, financial advisors are not your typical survey respondents. With days packed with critical client touchpoints and time-sensitive trades, it's no surprise that "survey-taking" isn't often at the top of a financial advisor's lengthy to-do list. Thus, we knew that attempting to field a study like this would lead to low response, poor data quality, and potentially difficult-to-interpret results.

An online research community for financial advisors is born

Rather than going against our own best practices and industry experience and miffing potential respondents in the process, we suggested a different approach. Why not create an unbranded panel of financial advisors who could, over time, provide insights and opinions about their jobs, clients, and industry trends? All of the information included in the 30-minute survey could be broken into smaller parts and fielded as focused, individual engagements to ultimately provide meaningful, digestible, ongoing insights.

Alas, our client embraced the idea and immediately came up with several additional topics they wanted to explore. An online research community was born. More than six years and 75 engagements later, it is still going strong, fueling the client with meaningful thought leadership and industry data to drive product creation and better understand the day-to-day experiences of financial advisors. We've been able to find niche groups of advisors who are happy to share their thoughts with us across a variety of engagement types: surveys, UX testing, in-depth interviews, etc.


cover of the how to choose a panel partner PDFDownload the guide to learn more about evaluating a potential partner's approach to building and managing an online research community.


The community advantage for niche populations

Online communities offer something that is often unattainable among difficult-to-reach populations — an opportunity to obtain consistent check-ins with your target audiences. Once the research community is recruited there's no need to find new respondents each time you want to conduct research; you have a pool ready and willing to provide input. We maintain around 1,000 active financial advisors in our community — all of whom have been thoroughly screened to ensure authentic, thoughtful responses. We typically get between 400-500 responses per survey.

Increased engagement

Advisors who commit to participating are faithful respondents who consistently provide input because they enjoy the relevance of the topics. When possible, we share applicable insights with members so they can see how they stack up against their peers, which offers additional incentive to participate. Data quality is consistently high, our clients are impressed with the results, and the panelists enjoy participating — it's truly a win-win.

"Double-blind" market research

Another advantage of creating a community of advisors, home office decision-makers, or other hard-to-reach groups is that Bellomy hosts and maintains the community. This gives our clients the option not to be revealed as the study sponsor, and in turn, panel members are not revealed to our clients. This "double-blind" approach has several advantages:

  • We can pay incentives to panelists to reward them for participation and keep them engaged. In many branded financial services research, the sponsor cannot directly compensate participants. However, since Bellomy operates the panel, we can provide incentives.
  • Since the study sponsor is unknown to panel members, there is no chance the participants will provide biased feedback based on their knowledge of the sponsor.
  • Multiple sponsors can use the same group for research, resulting in cost savings for our clients.

Trying to garner insights with these populations outside of a panel doesn't have these benefits and can be expensive, time-consuming, and potentially increase response bias.

Financial market research doesn't have to be this hard

We've heard from clients that they often steer clear of hard-to-reach audiences because finding these groups is expensive. They also mistakenly think they have only one chance to extract all of the respondent's knowledge, leading to surveys designed to gather as much information as possible, no matter the impact on quality.

Research communities offer an elegant solution for conducting long-term research with a distinct, hard-to-reach group. Think about that target client or customer who you've always wanted to learn about but have difficulty finding — the community approach might be the golden ticket for engaging them.

If a community of financial advisors can deliver prevailing industry insights and the opportunity to get inside the mind of your target client, consider what a community can do for your customer understanding and market research. Contact us today to start planning your online research community.

cover of the how to choose a panel partner PDFDownload our guide to choosing an online research community partner

Make sure the partner you select to build your online research community has the science, art, technology, and heart to successfully collect meaningful insights that will help your organization become more customer-centric.

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