Tracking Studies

In online quantitative marketing research, there are not many study types that are as important as tracking studies. They are used by large brands, consumer goods companies, retailers, and many others to track consumer sentiment around their products or services and to measure effectiveness of marketing campaigns, advertising tracking, and other functions of the marketing mix over time.

What Are Tracking Studies?

In the broadest sense, tracking studies are longitudinal studies used in marketing research that survey a target population or audience at a specific time interval to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors. The questionnaire is rarely changed, and the time interval is kept consistent (i.e., weekly, monthly, etc.) so that results can be measured wave-to-wave.

Why Are Tracking Studies Important?

Brands utilize a lot of information when making decisions, from internal data to external insights gathered from clients or potential customer feedback. One of the most important ways brands and other organizations collect external insights is through tracking studies. These studies are often tied to million, if not billion-dollar decisions, as brands and other organizations use this type of study to measure the performance of their marketing efforts, consumer sentiment, and changes in attitudes and behaviors.

Objectives of Tracking Studies

Tracking studies can have different objectives depending on the organization. Overall, their main goal is to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors and how they impact their brand. Here are just a few different things that tracking studies can be used to measure:

  • Advertising Impact / Effectiveness
  • Brand Awareness
  • Brand Equity
  • Brand Rating
  • Brand Health
  • Competitive Advantage
  • Customer Perception
  • Key Event Impact / Effectiveness
  • Changes in attitudes or perceptions
  • Brand, Social Issues, etc.
  • Marketing Impact / Effectiveness
  • New Product Launch
  • Impact / Effectiveness
  • Promotions Impact / Effectiveness

Types of Tracking Studies

There are many different types of tracking studies an organization might employ. The type of tracking study a brand or other organization may utilize depends on the type of information they are looking to gather and the goal of the research.

The diverse types of tracking studies include:

Brands and other organizations commonly use tracking studies that focus on their customers to understand how they change and evolve over time by continuously measuring buying patterns, habits, behaviors, attitudes, and demographics to identify shifts.

With each wave, you can collect feedback from customers on their habits, attitudes, perceptions, product awareness, emotions, and other key performance indicators, and compare them to previous waves to identify and understand changes in the brand’s consumersentiment

Insights gathered through these studies can help organizations make multi-million-dollar business decisions that can impact not only the brand, but the overall organization and its performance.

Receipt tracking surveys take customer surveys to the next level. With customer surveys, brands, retailers, and other service providers are dependent on the respondents to self-identify if they are a customer. That is not the case with receipt tracking.

With receipt tracking, customers are required to upload their receipts to prove that they shopped at a specific store or bought a specific product. This allows brands to be more precise in their targeting of customers.

This type of tracker study is like the customer survey, but the target audience is non-customers, neither current nor lapsed.
Surveying non-customers, or even the general population on a consistent basis, can help an organization gather insights that can help measure and define items like:

Likelihood that potential buyers would switch brands/Customer loyalty

This study tracks the importance of price and/or other factors that buyers look at when comparing competing brands or products.

Awareness level of the product, brand, or organization among the general population

By conducting this type of survey, organizations can better evaluate their marketing plans or sales strategies, and adjust based on data-driven decisions, and overall win more business.

While most tracking studies are focused on customers or potential customers, there are some that focus on employees. Employee tracking studies can be used to measure employee satisfaction, productivity, and engagement.

Employee tracking studies can help the human resources and executive teams understand what employees are feeling, while also helping identify any potential organizational issues so they can put plans in place to fix them.

Not only will it help identify organizational issues, but as you compare the tracking data wave-to-wave, you will be able to compare the results to benchmarks and identify areas of improvement.

One of the more common tracker studies is an ad effectiveness tracker. In an advertising tracking study, marketers are looking to understand the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. For many marketers, campaign metrics only give one aspect of the story. It can be difficult to ascertain which components were impactful with consumers, and which may not have been.
Ad effectiveness studies can help marketers and brands understand things like:

  • Has brand awareness increased or declined?
  • How do potential customers feel about our brand? (Both before and after a campaign, and if there was a change in brand perception.)
  • Were consumers persuaded to purchase the product or service?
  • Comparing data gathered from ad effectiveness studies from both customers and non-customers can be a great way to show how influential a marketing campaign was, and how much it has impacted consumer behaviors.

Best Practices for Tracking Studies

Given that tracker studies are some of the most important studies fielded in market research – with brands, consumer goods companies, and other organizations using them to base million-dollar decisions on – it is imperative that trackers provide the most accurate data possible.

To ensure that you get the best data out of your tracker, we have put together some best practices.

Not every sample source is the same, and neither is the data they provide. It is critical to know your sample providers, how they recruit and manage their panel, their incentive structure, which devices respondents tend to take surveys on, and how suppliers invite their respondents. You should also be aware of their quality measures.

Using a single source in your tracker study can cause a lot of problems, ranging from data bias, running out of sample, and over-representation of a single group, to data inconsistencies over time.

To avoid these problems, you should use a strategic blend of sample sources for your tracker studies. This means you take a systematic and deliberate approach in selecting and blending your sample suppliers. Doing so will allow you to avoid all the problems that a single source can cause, as well as ensure long-term success of your tracking study.

While you want to keep as many variables as consistent as possible wave-to-wave, sample panels change over time. This is due to changes in their recruitment methods, incentive structure, panelist turnover, and more. As panel companies change, the data their respondents provide can also change. Every year you should evaluate your sample providers and look to see if you need to replace any to ensure that your overall sample plan remains stable, and your data remains reliable.

Tracking studies can provide a wealth of data about your product or brand, as well as insights into purchasing behaviors. However, you should always look at what is going on in the marketplace and overlay the results. This will allow you to see if specific market events or conditions impact your data. Depending on the event, it could also explain any data anomalies or outliers when compared to previous waves.

As with any type of online study, an ever-increasing number of respondents are taking surveys from their mobile devices, whether it’s from a phone or a tablet. This needs to be considered not only when you are designing your survey, but you should also look to make improvements wave-to-wave to ensure that the respondent experience is as good as it can be.

Another aspect of respondent engagement that ensures you get the best results from your tracking studies is to ensure your questionnaires are not too long. You want to design your survey to ask the questions you want to gather your insights on but exclude any extraneous questions that might cause it to be longer than it needs to be. A tracking study is not the time to get “nice-to-have” insights.

History of Tracking Studies and Online Sample

In the old days of sampling, the best practice was leveraging a single sample source. The philosophy being that by using the same single source, you ensured data consistency wave-to-wave. Sample companies maintained similar panel management, ensuring that their panel was similar over time.

However, over the last few years, the perception of using a single sample source as a best practice diminished. There are a variety of factors that drove this change – mergers, technological advancements such as programmatic sampling, mobile apps, the interwovenness of providers because of API integrations, higher levels of fraud, providers plain running out of target respondents. All of this has led to a shift in market researchers using multiple sample sources for studies.

Researchers started using multiple sample sources out of necessity, not because they thought it was the best way to do it. Panel sources they had engaged for a study were falling short and they had to bring on additional sources to “top-up” the study. Demand certainly outpaced supply.

There are even times when a client or a researcher may have thought they were using a single source, but the supplier brought in other providers to fill needed completes or quotas their panel couldn’t achieve. This method of aggregating sample is known as “stacking” suppliers. Multiple suppliers are used because a single sample source cannot provide all the completes needed on a particular study. 

Other sample sources are added at the end of the study to gather the rest of the needed completes. There is no magic number of sample sources added with this method; sources are simply added until the study has all the completes needed. Using this method can make closing studies feel like fire drills. It almost takes the control of your project away from you.

Blended Sample

Sample blending is the process of using multiple suppliers, but with a more planned and intentional method. It usually means using three or more different panels and setting limits on the number of completes each panel can get, so no one panel gets more than 50%.

EMI’s Approach to Tracking Studies

Consistency. It is one of the most key factors for any market researcher, especially ones conducting tracking studies. That is why EMI’s approach to tracking studies focuses on providing you accurate insights, long-term feasibility, and data consistency wave-to-wave. We do this by creating a strategic sample blend customized to your tracking studies, your needs, and your research goals. By creating a custom, strategic sample blend, EMI can ensure consistency and quality in your study.

Strategic Sample Blending

EMI is unique in that we don’t just blend sample for the sake of blending. We do it with quality and consistency in mind, understanding that not all techniques for combining multiple panel providers are created equal. In other methods of combining sample like stacking or aggregating, no care is given to panel makeup, respondents’ attitudes and behaviors, or panel bias, and is often done in a last-ditch effort to reach feasibility goals. EMI is different. We know that customizing a strategic blend based on clients’ unique needs will ensure the best results possible. So, what does strategic sample blending entail?

Strategic sample blending takes sample blending a step further. Not only do you use three or more sample providers, but the selection and blending of the selected providers is done in an intentional and controlled manner. Sample sources are selected to complement one another, while reducing the overall sample bias and any potential behavioral or attitudinal impacts a panel can have. This ensures not only the accuracy of your tracker’s data, but that it is truly representational of demographics, behavior, and attitudes of your target audience.

Additionally, by strategically selecting your providers and managing their allocation, you can increase your overall feasibility for the life of your tracker, avoiding the dreaded “top-up” situation that can skew your data. By strategically blending sample, you can ensure the consistency and reliability of your tracker and the data it provides, allowing you and your organization to make the best business decisions possible.

So, how do we do this? We start with a typical blend formula, then customize it based on a variety of criteria so that the strategic blend ensures you will meet the goals of your study. After taking all the factors into account, we develop your strategic blend by plotting out all the partners on the factors we discussed and by identifying panel partners that fit into the sweet spot to meet all the criteria, while providing consistency and feasibility for the life of the tracker. We also balance the partners on attitudes and behaviors to eliminate bias.

Strategic sample blending has several advantages:

  • Improved Feasibility
  • Improved Consistency
  • Reduced Risk
  • Reduced Field Time

Collaborating with clients, EMI serves as an extension of your market research team.

EMI’s network of 150 global partners can connect you with your target audience – Business, Consumer, or other specialty population – by connecting you with the right panel blends to measure and track attitudes, behaviors, and other opinions across the globe.


IntelliBlend® is EMI’s unique methodology of strategically blending sample sources in an intentional and controlled approach in order to deliver the most representative and accurate demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal data. This approach includes double opt-in research panels but may also include non-traditional sources such as social media, which is utilized in a limited and controlled manner.

IntelliBlend® can vary from project-to-project based on the needs of the research. The unique blend is developed by leveraging proprietary research-on-research data as well as over 20 years of sample experience. For ongoing work, the custom sample plan is replicated from wave-to-wave utilizing EMI’s sample management platform, SWIFT, which enforces sample source quotas, thus ensuring data consistency.

Our Recommendations for Adjusting Your Tracking Study Over Time

You may think building a strategic blend is the end, but it isn’t. Through our Research-on-Research process, we know that panels are not only different from one another, but that they also change over time. Since tracking studies are used by brands and other organizations for important decisions regarding everything from marketing efforts to brand health, customer loyalty, brand awareness, and more, the insights they provide need to be trusted. That means tracker studies need to be adjusted over time, including the sample providers you use and/or their allocations, in order to ensure your tracking data consistency.

There are numerous factors that may cause you to adjust the sample allocation of your providers, or your decision to work with specific sample providers, including:

  • Changes in base size
  • Changes in length of interview (LOI)
  • Changes to the incidence rate (IR)
  • Changes to the sample quotas
  • Feasibility of one or more of your sample providers
  • Poor or declining data quality
  • Mergers/Acquisitions in the sample industry

Similarly, there is a variety of criteria that we can control when creating your blend, including:

  • Attitudes and Behaviors by panel
  • Client KPIs
  • Feasibility
  • Targeting Criteria
  • Fielding Time & Fielding Criteria
  • And much more

When you are looking to adjust your tracking studies, we have five key recommendations you should follow:

  • Monitor all KPIs by sample provider over time.

  • Have at least one or more sample provider that provides a small amount of completes per wave but can increase their allotment of completes if necessary.

  • Make slight adjustments to sample partner blends to start. Immediate major changes may have adverse impacts on KPIs.

  • Maintain full transparency between the research team, client team, and sample team and ensure everyone understands the advantages and disadvantages of adjusting the blend.

  • Work with a sample expert to help identify like panels to ensure minimal impact to KPIs.

Transitioning a Tracking Study to EMI

EMI’s strategic sample blending methodology ensures we can help you transition your brand tracking study, no matter the scenario you currently face, and build a strategic blend that is controlled and intentional to help you meet your study’s goals, while also reducing bias and ensuring consistency over time.

When you are looking to transition your tracking study, you should collaborate with an expert on the sample industry, not just one specific panel. We work with clients to transition their tracking studies all the time and have established a process that leads clients to have higher quality data and viability of their tracker long-term.

First, we conduct research-on-research on the sample industry to determine similarities and differences in attitudes and behaviors between sample providers. This allows us to examine the specific sample provider you are looking to replace, identify providers that have similar characteristics, and make recommendations on the replacement.

We also conduct a side-by-side comparison of your existing partner mix and our recommended panel blend to measure for consistency.
No matter the scenario you face, EMI has a migration method that can help. To learn more about which method might be right for you, check out the video below.

Ready to take that next step?