Longitudinal Research: Definition, Process, and Benefits

analyzing data

When it comes to market research, many conversations often center around benchmarking. And longitudinal research helps brands obtain these benchmarks over time.

A data point is just a data point in a vacuum. Without context, it does not provide a lot of value.

A simple example would be a marketing consultant telling you that 64% of your customers are satisfied.

Without any context, would that data point be usable for you? Is 64% good or bad? How does it compare to other competitors? Industry standards?

The context a market research firm can provide to your statistics is invaluable.

One of the most insightful benchmarks in market research is the ability to compare your data to past iterations of your study. The best benchmark is often yourself.

Keep reading to learn more about longitudinal research, its benefits, example studies, and the process for conducting ongoing market research.

Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide to Brand Tracking

What is longitudinal research?

Longitudinal research studies are surveys conducted over time to measure change.

This could include changes in behaviors, attitudes, lifestyles, demographics, satisfaction, awareness, perception, or any other metric your survey measures.

The longitudinal surveys can be short, frequent surveys (e.g., monthly, quarterly, etc.) or long, infrequent surveys (e.g., yearly, bi-annually, etc.)

What are the benefits of longitudinal research?

Longitudinal research studies provide insightful benchmarks and trending data for brands and organizations.

These studies conducted over time can provide insights that cannot be obtained through any other approach or methodology.

It measures your delta or changes to the data.

Depending on the study, the longitudinal survey can offer some great data points to help your brand.

Some examples of potential insights include:

  • Awareness of your brand increased from 24% to 26% to 31% over 3 years.
  • Perception of your organization rising by 10% over the past 10 years.
  • Preference for online purchasing increased an average of 4% year-over-year.
  • Satisfaction with specific products decreases continually year over year.
  • Consumers are 2X more likely to use the product compared to 2 decades ago.

Not only can these core metrics be tracked, but it is always essential to include a series of demographic questions in your longitudinal studies.

It allows you to slice and dice the data to understand aggregate survey trends and sub-trends within specific demographic segments.

example of a customer segment

Some good demographic questions to consider in your longitudinal survey include the following:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Household size
  • Marital status
  • Household income
  • Educational attainment
  • Ethnicity or race
  • Children in the household
  • Age of children
  • State of residence
  • ZIP Code
  • County

Recommended Reading: Benefits of Continuous Performance Measurement and Tracking  

What is the process for conducting longitudinal research?

Since longitudinal data is about measuring change, these studies are quantitative.

Whereas qualitative research focuses more on exploration with sample sizes that are not statistically reliable, longitudinal studies must provide a statistically valid sample.

Learn more about the differences in our blog post, Differences Between Qualitative and Quantitative Market Research.

The steps involved in creating a longitudinal study are very straightforward. 

An overview of the process of conducting longitudinal research includes:

  1. Create a market research brief that outlines your needs for your longitudinal study.
  2. The brief should include ideas for question topics, target audience, geographies, etc.
  3. Reaching out to a few longitudinal market research companies to collect quotes and proposals.
  4. The market research firm can help guide you on your objectives and suggested sample sizes.
  5. The market research consultant will also help guide you on the frequency of your study.
  6. Choose a longitudinal market research company and schedule a kickoff to discuss objectives.
  7. The market research firm will design a workplan with essential dates and deliverables.
  8. The consultant will draft a survey for your review, using your objectives as the guide.
  9. Finalize the survey. From there, the firm will program your survey in its software for testing.
  10. The market research company will launch the survey and review responses closely for data quality.
  11. Once fieldwork is closed, the consultant will create a market research report for review.
  12. The report will detail key findings, metrics, scorecards, and recommendations for your study.
  13. From there, plan a tentative date to schedule your kickoff meeting for the next wave of research.
  14. As part of the next wave, review questions to keep, change, and how insights can be applied.

What are some examples of longitudinal research studies?

There are many different types of market research. The choice of methodology is dependent on factors such as project objectives, timeline, audience, and budget.

When working with a third-party market research company, like Drive Research, we can recommend the best approach to collect ongoing feedback based on your criteria. 

Most commonly though, the methodologies below are what our market research company recommends to businesses looking for conducting longitudinal research.

Brand equity studies

These are surveys that often measure unaided awareness, aided awareness, associations, perceptions, awareness of advertising, channel awareness, and so on.

Tracking this data on an ongoing basis can provide critical data to help to understand marketing ROI and budget planning.

Customer satisfaction surveys

These are the most common types of surveys for brands. They measure customer satisfaction, net promoter score (NPS), and deeper measures such as timeliness, ease of doing business, value or price, etc.

Measuring this on an ongoing basis helps brands understand whether the dial is moving in the right or wrong direction year after year.

Conducting regular customer satisfaction surveys allows brands to make changes based on the feedback and then remeasure to see how metrics have adjusted.

Watch our video for more benefits of continuous customer feedback surveys.

Attitude and usage studies

These surveys measure how people feel about a brand and how they use or behave with it.

Some example metrics may include familiarity, drivers to likes or dislikes, purchase behaviors, channels used to purchase, demographics of buyers, and so on.

Running this as a longitudinal study helps brands adjust their operations and strategies to evolve consumer behaviors for the product or service.

The U.S. Census

It is the most popular longitudinal research study and one that is rarely thought about. It’s a survey sent to the entire population of the U.S. every decade.

The Census measures the change in the country's demographics, household populations, makeup, and other critical metrics that the U.S. government analyzes.

Learn more in our blog post, What Impact Does Census Data Have on Market Research? 

Contact Us to Conduct Longitudinal Research

Drive Research is a full-service qualitative and quantitative market research firm based in Syracuse, NY. Our client portfolio spans many industries and geographies, including the U.S. and the world.

Our team works with clients to help design longitudinal research programs, including custom-designed survey questions, data collection, and reporting.

Interested in learning more? Contact us using 1 of the 4 ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

Author Bio George Kuhn

George Kuhn

George is the Owner & President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX-certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.

Learn more about George, here.

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