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Nov 16, 2004
Case Study

How to Recruit an Online Panel of Fashion Influencers for Year-Round Market Research (At Low Cost)

SUMMARY: If you're counting on your online research panel to tell you what's hip and cool, how do you know they are truly the hip cool influencers they say they are? After all, someone saying he's a 21-year old rodeo star could be his geeky 12-year old brother. Find out how Wrangler recruited 100 of the coolest older teens in the Western fashion world for an ongoing online feedback group; how the monthly online questionnaires work; and a little of what they've learned so far...

If you're in the target demographic to buy Wrangler's 20X apparel line, you'll instinctively grasp that 20X doesn't stand for extremely fat people's clothing.

Instead it's a reference to cowboy hat quality -- with anything 10X and above being very high quality indeed.

Wrangler launched the line about a decade ago to appeal to contemporary Western shoppers in farm and Western specialty stores. "They're 16-24 year olds who look for something a little more fashion forward," explains Marketing Intelligence Analyst Joe Broyles.

It's Broyles' job to keep his finger on the fashion pulse of these teens. He has to answer confidently the following questions year-round:

o Which outfits will the trendiest fashion influencers in the older teen 4H and rodeo crowd leap to buy next season?

o Which proposed ad creatives will appeal to them the most?

o What are their shopping habits? Are they moving online?

Running a continual series of focus groups across the Western states was cost prohibitive. Plus, Broyles, like most analysts, wanted more data than a dozen kids in a room at a time could give him.

If his research results were going to affect product development, advertising, distribution channels, and marketing, he wanted to be able to offer a bit more statistical relevance.


In the past, Wrangler researchers had run offline panels with as many as 40 participants. Broyles decided to try running a panel online instead, and to shoot for 100 active participants.

Here's how he and the research team did it:

Step #1. Recruit panel members & winnow them down

Luckily Wrangler already had a fat database of young consumers who'd handed over their contact info at various events such as rodeos and Future Farmers of America functions. They needed to winnow this list down to 100 fashion-forward 16-24 year olds, whose preferences filtered down to affect their peers; and who were willing to be part of an ongoing online panel.

But when you're online, nobody can tell if you're a geek. Or the wrong sex (Wrangler wanted the 100 evenly split between young men and women). Or outside the targeted age limits.

For the first cut, the team devised a fairly standard online survey. Questions included items like (not exact wording):

o Are you into fashion?
o Do you like to make a statement with your clothing?
o Do you look for new trends, or tend to follow along?

Next the team emailed a special offer to the kids who passed the initial round -- to get a chance at joining the panel they had to fill out a longer online survey. Plus they had to create and postal mail in a paper collage featuring pictures of themselves showing what they wore on specific types of occasions and images reflecting their lifestyle.

Everyone who responded with a collage would receive a check for $20. Plus the chance of being asked to be on the panel was also a highly effective lure. (Trend setting teens like to air opinions and flex power -- especially with a major brand like Wrangler.)

Then the research team poured over the collages learning both what average kids think is cool, and what the coolest looked like. 100 respondents were asked to join the final panel, which started early in 2004.

Finally, to test that these kids' opinions truly reflected the marketplace, one of the earliest surveys asked them to rate a selection of shirts that included the past season's best sellers, as well as some worst-sellers.

Step #2. Set monthly research priorities in-house

Predictably, once the panel was up and running, multiple departments at Wrangler wanted to pitch questions to it during the scheduled monthly survey. Broyles' team had to play the role of diplomatic gatekeepers.

"We do try to focus on one topic," says Broyles. "We'll have meetings with merchandising and marketing and ask 'What are the burning issues?' We don't want to mix and match, ask the panel to rate products and then flip to ads. It can be tiresome with too many topics at once."

He adds, "We try to keep the survey to 20 minutes or less. So, for example, if you're showing images or products, you keep it to 10-12 items. It's not only rating on how well do you like them, we also try to get a little more depth on what do they think."

"They could love the design of a shirt, but hate the color. We need to know why they didn't give the shirt the highest rating."

Generally the team revolved panel opportunity through the three major types of questions -- one month panelists would rate ads, the next month discuss their shopping patterns, and the next review possible new products.

Step #3. Post a private online survey and alert panelists

Once each month's survey was posted to the private site online, the team emailed out an alert to the 100 panel members. In addition to keeping the surveys limited to about 20 minutes, Broyles used two tactics to ensure the highest possible response:

o A new monthly reward, valued at about $20. Broyles liked to mix it up, not relying on a check every time. Sometimes he offered a choice of gift cards to chain stores, etc.

o The phone -- if a member's email box bounced the message, the team called them up immediately to see if a too-full mailbox could be cleared out, or if they had a new email address.


"Every assignment we've emailed has received almost 100% feedback," says Broyles. "These are absolutely the greatest kids ever. They love Wrangler, they love 20X, and they love to participate. They take it seriously and we take their input seriously."

All 100 of initial panelists are still happily involved in the monthly program, so Broyles hasn't resorted to back-up replacements yet.

As you might imagine, female teens sending in collages far outnumbered the male teens who took on the task. However, there were still more than enough cool male teens to make up the 50 required.

Walmart gift cards have been among the most popular rewards, mainly because it's one chain you can count on being near everyone.

Panel results have already directly impacted 20X marketing, for example:

o 65% of the panel said they'd purchased clothing online, and 43% had bought jeans online in the past. "I've never bought jeans online!" marvels Broyles. "It makes you sit back and say wow, these guys really are looking at other distribution channels."

o Panelists loved creative mock-ups for Wrangler's planned Fall 2004 print ad campaign, but when one panelist pointed out the model's cowboy hat wasn't authentic, the creative team dropped the picture.

o Panelists also encouraged the creative team to make the 20X logo *more* prominent in ads so they could spot it more easily; and to make sure all poses showed clear views of the outfits rather than just cool attitudes.

o Panelists correctly chose every single one of the past bestselling shirts, and gave rotten ratings to the losers. Wrangler's merchandising team were able to use this data to position panelists' opinions about the upcoming lines to retailers.

"It's a great way to show retailers we've got [reliable] consumer feedback on products in development," says Broyles. "We show them here's what's scoring high for 2005. These are the ones we think you should stock up on."

Useful links related to this article:

WebSurveyor - the software that Wrangler relies on to create and manage the research surveys online:

Teen Research Unlimited - the specialists who helped Wrangler winnow down the pool of recruits to the most useful 100:

Definition 6 - helped with creation and distribution of online survey, and database management


Related MarketingSherpa Articles:

#1. Case Study: "Nissan Tests TV Commercial Creative with Both Online & Offline Study Panels -- Will Results Match?"

#2. Interview: "How to Conduct Web-Based Surveys for Product & Pricing Development"

#3. How-to: "Emailing Market Research Surveys - How to Pick Lists, Incentives, Subject Lines & Estimate Response"

#4. Interview: "How Hallmark Cards Conducts Online Market Research -- Successful Tests and Biggest Mistake"
See Also:

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