Time to get on the bus. The omnibus.
If you found this article in the endless stream of content available to you on Google or Bing, consider yourself lucky. You’ve made a wise choice.
We’ll teach you everything you wanted (and potentially didn’t) want to know about omnibus surveys in this ultimate guide.
Article Contents 📃
Let's get to it. Here are the topics we'll cover below.
Simply skip directly to the section of the guide you’re interested in by touching (for the phone/tablet junkies) or clicking (for the PC/laptop junkies) below.
- What is an omnibus survey?
- How are omnibus surveys conducted?
- How is it different from a piggyback survey?
- What is the process to run an omnibus survey?
- Who is the audience for the omnibus survey?
- How are respondents sourced for an omnibus survey?
- How often are omnibus surveys run?
- What are the key advantages of an omnibus survey?
- What are the disadvantages of an omnibus survey?
- What is an example case study of an omnibus study?
- What to look for to find the best omnibus survey companies?
- Where do I get started with an omnibus survey?
Once you finish reading, you’ll be able to present your own 30-minute seminar on the topic, teach Omnibus Surveys 401 at your local college, and likely be able to confidently create a YouTube channel on the topic.
Don’t need the 101 refresher on the topic? Just looking for an omnibus survey quote or proposal for your project? Easy enough.
First things, first. We all need a basic definition.
An omnibus survey is a single questionnaire administered to a large number of respondents that ask about a variety of unrelated topics.
The questions span across a variety of products, services, brands, and behaviors paid for by several survey sponsors.
This variety and all-encompassing nature of an omnibus survey are driven by those paying sponsors who buy questions in the survey together to share costs across the sample pool.
How is this different from a typical survey❓
- Brand A wants to ask about the awareness of its organization.
- Brand B wants to ask about factor(s) in the choice of vehicles.
- Brand C wants to ask about cooking habits in the kitchen.
- Brand D wants to ask parents about safety issues with children’s toys.
However, what’s different from typical surveys, is all of those seemingly random questions are asked in the same survey script.
Because an omnibus survey has multiple questions sponsored by different organizations, clients don't receive data for all the answers collected for each question.
Instead, clients choose beforehand which questions they want to ask and therefore purchase as part of the much larger survey.
In most instances, omnibus surveys are conducted in intervals (once a day, once a week, or once a month) so to allow companies to gather data as soon as possible.
The questions are then administered to large audiences and valuable data is collected.
Think of it like this...🤔
Think of an omnibus survey like a timeshare property, except it’s not a complete scam and something you’ll be stuck with the rest of your life with a bunch of hidden fees and clauses.
That’s shady. And, in that way, it’s nothing like a timeshare.
But for the purpose of this example, let’s say if a family was to buy a beach house along the Florida Gulf they might end up paying over $1M for the home.
However, with a timeshare, the costs are spread out across 26 families who rent the house for 2-weeks per year.
So the cost of the home is now spread out across 26 families and it becomes much more affordable.
Omnibus surveys are the timeshares of market research surveys 🌴
You can dip your toe into the market research pool with others, without having to pay for the pool.
You can pay for a membership and use the equipment at your local gym without paying full price for the treadmill, elliptical, and rock wall.
An omnibus survey is a quick and cost-efficient way to get results for a topic without having to front all of the costs for the market research.
It is a common approach used by public relations firms for PR surveys.
The methodology used for an omnibus survey varied a lot more in the past.
As we all know, the market research world (and the world in general) has shifted completely digital over the past few decades.
Omnibus surveys used to be conducted by phone, but now they are virtually all conducted online.
This type of market research is largely conducted as online surveys. Through smartphones, tablets, PCs, and laptops.
Why are these studies conducted online? Online surveys are…
- Quick: responses can be received from the general population in as little as an hour.
- Inexpensive: compare 1-click of a mouse of 10,000 invites to 100 hours of call center hours.
- High-quality: online data quality can be as good as a phone survey if you take the right precautions.
To be honest, there is no difference. Don’t be disappointed.
The term piggyback survey is often used synonymously with omnibus surveys. The principal is exactly the same: piggybacking with other companies to share the cost of a market research survey.
Prefer to use the term piggyback survey? We won’t judge and we have the perfect article for you right here: What is a piggyback survey? 🐖
The process to run an omnibus survey is fairly simple. The step-by-step process below highlights the 10 steps that are taken to engage with an omnibus survey firm, like Drive Research.
Sponsors of the omnibus survey pay a fee to buy a question or questions in the survey script. This can be as few as 1 question, or as high as 20 or 30+ depending on your needs and budget.
The questions could ask about awareness, perception, loyalty, or any other number of topics.
A few things to keep in mind for brands who buy-into an omnibus survey with a third party.
- Brands will receive a portion of the information collected and analyzed, with that portion applying specifically to your questions.
- The sponsor does not receive information or data from questions asked from other sponsors even though the respondent answers all questions in the survey.
- You can receive insight into the same demographic data on the respondents as other sponsors.
- Once the survey secures enough sponsors and questions, then the market research company works with each sponsor to finalize the question(s) being asked.
More of those details are explained in this section.
Step 1: Proposal 📃
After the omnibus survey company learns a little more about your objectives and needs, they’ll put together a mini-proposal that highlights a few package options.
The packages typically vary by the number of questions and the number of responses. These are typically 1,000 or 2,000 survey completes.
Once the agreement page is signed and returned, you are off and running.
Step 2: Kickoff 🏈
Next, your omnibus survey consultant holds a kickoff meeting with your team. In several cases, this kickoff meeting is skipped in order to get the survey rolling as quickly as possible.
If the kickoff meeting is skipped, there is some conversation over email. Skipping the kickoff meeting speeds the process along but is not always recommended.
The market research firm can add some new insights or expertise to your survey that you will likely want to take advantage of.
If you already know what questions you want to ask...
Many of our clients have the survey questions and objectives already outlined. In those cases, the document is sent to the omnibus survey firm to get started quickly.
If you don't know what questions you want to ask...
If you don’t have any questions outlined, or you want to leverage the expertise of our team, have no fear.
Our team will explore your needs to understand and recommend what questions to ask as part of the study.
Very simply, we ask about what you want to learn from the research, and how would you like to use the results?
It helps us construct the appropriate survey questions.
Step 3: Survey Design 🖌️
Regardless of whether you drafted the survey questions or not, we will run a complete audit of the questionnaire.
It will include suggestions on how to ask questions, what type of question to ask (multiple choice, grid, etc.), how to randomize the sequence, etc.
In fact, here are 36 question types for your online surveys.
All of this value-added information is something our team builds into each and every project at our national omnibus survey company.
Once we complete our audit, our team will send you a revised draft for approval in Word, before moving to the next step.
Speaking of the next steps…
Step 4: Programming 🕹️
Once your team is satisfied with the survey questions, our team moves on to programming. Our team of analysts takes the questions and adds them to our survey software.
Survey programming items include the following:
- Scientific question text (unbiased, mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive, etc.)
- Answer categories (not too many, not too little, just the right amount)
- Marking questions as must-answer
- Including other(s) with options to specify
- Adding routing or skip patterns (i.e., if Q3 = YES, skip to Q5)
- Adding answer category sequence (randomize, inverse order, etc. to prevent sequence bias)
The survey programming process can be a tedious task. But! It is an important factor in collecting reliable survey results.
Our omnibus survey firm has found these coding tips to be helpful.
Step 5: Choice of Demographics 👩🏿👨🏼🙎🏻👧🏻👦🏻
There are many demographic data points that can be added to your survey for analysis.
A benefit of working with an expert in this space is the option to append data that is already collected from respondents from previous surveys.
These are not questions you need to ask as part of your question package, as they can be appended to your results.
So you can ask one question, but have options to append the following data points to run additional cross-tabulations in your analysis.
Options include demographics such as:
- Household income
- Number of people in the household
- Children in the household
There are many more demographic questions to include, but it is important to choose wisely. Note that this information may entail some additional costs beyond your survey question package.
Our team can recommend the best demographic questions to include based on your objectives.
Step 6: Testing 🧪
Once our research analyst programs your survey, our omnibus survey firm team runs extensive in-house testing of the questionnaire.
It typically includes circulating the link to 4 or 5 testers on the Drive Research team. Their job is to find errors or inconsistencies.
As part of this testing, comments may be left by testers on the online survey. Comments might include items or issues identified with skip patterns, grammar, spelling, sequence, etc.
It is to ensure everything is caught before launching to a national audience.
Don’t you feel safer now?
Step 7: Soft-launch 💥
Now the survey is ready to field. Our next step is to field the survey to a small number of respondents nationally.
We review the initial feedback carefully to ensure the process is working correctly, and there are no issues.
As a part of the review, our team evaluates respondent counts and paths in the data file.
These checks give you peace of mind your questions are displaying as intended and to the correct audience.
The last thing you want is to discover problems with the survey in the middle of fieldwork.
Step 8: Full Launch 🚀🚀
After the soft-launch (or test drive), the survey is fully employed. Results for your omnibus survey are census representative on all key demographics among U.S. adults.
Depending on the package you select, it might include:
- 400 responses
- 1,000 responses
- 2,000 responses
From start-to-finish, the project can move as quickly as 24 to 48 hours or less.
This large sample size allows more flexibility for the sponsor to slice data by age group, income levels, and other key splits.
Step 9: Online Portal 📊
Once fieldwork begins, Drive Research shares an online dashboard of live results with your team.
- Here is an example of the overall results with a full sample.
- Here is an example of what the cross-tabulation reports may look like. (i.e., breaking data down by age, region, etc.)
These reports provide a sneak peek and insider view of the final results.
The portal is passcode protected and interactive, which allows clicking around to view comments, filter by date, and other functionalities.
Our online portal allows you to export results in Excel, PDF, Powerpoint, or Word documents.
You can select from demographic cross-tabs or cross-tab based on custom questions asked in the survey.
This makes it extremely easy to work with the results offline for your presentation decks, internal documents, or other purposes.
Other reporting packages can be chosen beyond the online portal. Those packages include:
- Option 1: A raw data file. This Excel file includes all of the row-by-row responses from all respondents to your survey.
- Option 2: A cross-tabulations banner run. This excel file lists all of the questions in your survey as rows and key segments as columns. At a quick glance, it is easy to read the statistics of the survey and see how responses compare by age group, gender, etc. Significance testing is added to this document to help you understand if results are statistically significant or not.
- Option 3: Executive summary. This is a 3-to-4 page Word document summary of the key findings from your survey. This is typically a bullet point narrative of the insights to share with your management team.
- Option 4: Comprehensive report. This is the Cadillac of the omnibus survey projects. It is a 100+ page PowerPoint of the results delivered in a PDF. It includes a background and methodology, an executive summary with recommendations, and a full appendix of chart-by-chart breakdowns of results and results compared by key demographics.
Step 10: Wrap-up 👏
The project team follows-up with your organization to answer any questions, assist with interpretation, or aid in exporting the results.
This is the final step in the 10-step omnibus survey process.
Need assistance with press releases, infographics, whitepapers, or other content?
Drive Research can help.
- Infographic: a graphical display of the data with icons and graphics as a separate deliverable.
- Blog posts: our team creates a series of articles highlighting a wide range of findings.
- Social snippets: our team creates a series of 20 social images with key findings.
- Whitepaper: a 4-page piece of collateral to encourage form fills for download.
- Website copy: our team will consult with your web team to add SEO-friendly content.
Here is an example of an infographic created by our omnibus survey company in New York 👇 👇
Generally, all omnibus surveys are conducted as general population surveys with consumer adults (18+). The general population means everyone qualifies and there are no screening criteria.
If you are only looking for feedback from a specific audience, your results can be segmented as such.
Here is an example.
As an example, if you are looking to analyze results for only those 45 and under, your total sample size for your omnibus survey may be n1000 but only n500 of those are under the age of 45.
In this scenario, a brand may ignore or throw out half of the cases and analyze only those younger age groups for their reporting purposes.
Part of the discounted costs in using an omnibus survey is the general targeting approach where everyone qualifies.
This is driven by a large number of brands buying into the omnibus survey effort. Although you don’t care about those aged 46+, another organization may.
Looking for a large sample size of a specific group?
In a custom online survey, you have the opportunity to maximize the sample for your audience of choice.
Utilize screener questions to ensure the only respondents answering your survey are the ones who meet your criteria.
However, higher costs are usually the tradeoff when it comes to detailed respondent targeting.
What is the cost of an online survey? Watch this 60-second video to find out.
Omnibus panels are generally created and operated by large market research companies. Omnibus survey companies have access to online panels of survey respondents.
These panels are essentially email databases of respondents who have raised their hand and said “yes” to participating in online surveys and other forms of market research.
This allows organizations to leverage these panel members for quick responses due to the high response rates.
Since panel members participate in a wide variety of studies and earn rewards for doing so (gift cards, points, etc.), they are quick to help.
Very important to note, however, is that due to the expansiveness of omnibus surveys, brands have to pay a fee to purchase a few questions on a single omnibus survey with questions costing anywhere from $100 to $1,000 depending on your target audience.
Scheduled runs for these studies vary by company.
- Several national omnibus survey companies commit to running a survey every day or every other day.
- Some run surveys twice a week or once a week.
- Other firms run surveys as needed based on volume.
The best omnibus survey companies will run your survey on your behalf quickly. Your fieldwork can be worked into the daily runs or run off-cycle, if necessary.
One of the best ways to make custom research less of an investment is by sponsoring an omnibus survey.
It is an excellent way to acquire maximum value from an online survey to a national audience without having to foot the entire bill.
Although there are many advantages to working with an omnibus survey company, there are five that emerge at the top of the list:
- Turnaround time
- Cost savings
- Instant access to results
- Access to a national audience
- A great first step to market research
Each of these advantages is discussed in detail below.
Advantage 1: Turnaround time ⏲️
We walked through our detailed 10-step process for omnibus surveys above. Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is the ability to get insights quickly.
In many cases, results can be turned around within 24 to 48 hours depending on the scope, the number of questions, and when the fieldwork cycle is being run by the firm.
If you need data or insights immediately, omnibus surveys provide answers fast. It’s really that simple.
The turnaround time is hard to match for more custom survey projects.
Advantage 2: Cost savings 💸
Because the survey is fielded with several organizations on each cycle, there are inherent cost savings through sharing a single questionnaire.
Although you have no visibility of other questions being asked by other brands in the omnibus, it’s easier for an omnibus survey company like Drive Research to send 1 survey and have respondents answer 25 questions at once, than to send 10 separate surveys of 5 questions each.
If you need to conduct a small survey that involves asking participants only a limited number of questions, an omnibus survey makes this possible.
It’s economies of scale, and those savings are passed to you.
All while still getting to ask a custom set of questions specific to your objectives.
Advantage 3: Instant access to results 📈
One of the pain points with a large custom survey project is waiting a week, two, or more to receive a full report.
With omnibus surveys, a portal is provided immediately after the survey goes live and fieldwork starts.
Your team can review up-to-the-second results through tabulated charts and graphs. It’s instant access and allows your team to interpret the results and take immediate action.
Advantage 4: Access to a national audience 🔴⚪🔵
This type of survey works well when the population you are studying is broadly defined.
Omnibus studies are considered general population surveys.
If you have a more defined target group, such as dads with children under the age of 8, then you will likely need to switch to a different mode of research, such as a custom survey.
It’s likely you may only receive a small number of responses among the 1,000 survey completes that fit that audience which limits your statistical reliability.
Advantage 5: A great first step for market research 👟
Omnibus surveys often serve as a solid foundation for future research when you're ready to target more specific populations.
It is important to keep your future research goals in mind when phrasing your questions for an omnibus survey.
If you are launching a new product and unsure about which age group is the best to target, let the results from an omnibus survey guide you.
Through the general population targeting from an omnibus survey, you may learn those aged 25 to 40 are the most likely age groups to buy your product.
As part of the next step in your market research strategy, you now have some data and facts to guide you.
Therefore your brand may set up a series of online focus groups with those aged 25 to 40 to learn more.
Heck, we can’t be completely biased with this methodology, can we? There are always two sides to the coin.
So as a visitor to our site, you also deserve to know the concerns or potential pitfalls with omnibus surveys.
Disadvantages of an omnibus survey include:
- Long survey experience
- General population audience
Disadvantage 1: Long survey experience 😑
Since there are often many paying sponsors buying questions for the survey, it is not unheard of to have an omnibus survey with 50 questions or more covering 8 to 12+ topics.
The fact is, this is not the greatest survey experience for the respondent. We hate long and boring surveys at Drive Research and always want to keep the respondent experience top of mind.
If the survey gets too long, respondents get bored, disengaged, or worse, rip through answers.
How can you avoid this? Ask your omnibus survey company about their data quality checks. This might include the inclusion of red herring questions, checking the time to complete, etc.
Disadvantage 2: General population audience 🗺️
As we mentioned above, while the general population audience helps keep costs low, it can also work against brands looking to target specific consumers.
If you only sell to those who rent and do not own homes, you won’t be able to use one-third of the survey responses.
If your organization offers a product to females-only and you need to acquire feedback from an omnibus survey, expect half of the responses to be useless.
It’s always important to weigh your cost and methodology options. In many cases, the omnibus survey may still win out if your audience is broad enough to collect at least 400 responses.
This gets you to a +/- 5% margin of error with a probabilistic random sample.
In our opinion, the advantages do outweigh the disadvantages when it comes to omnibus studies.
There are lots of examples of these studies online. In many cases, the reader may have no idea that the data or feedback for a study was collected through an omnibus survey.
It may just appear to be a custom survey project commissioned by the sponsoring brand.
But if you were the organization commissioning the research you can take pleasure in knowing you saved thousands of dollars leveraging the omnibus process for the study.
Here is an example.
A consulting firm hired Drive Research for an online omnibus survey market research project concerning a household consumer product brand.
The survey was administered among the general U.S. population. It was census-balanced by age, gender, ethnicity, and region to ensure an accurate representation of the national consumer market.
Several other organizations enrolled in the fieldwork cycle asking their own questions to the U.S. adult populations as part of this cycle.
A series of questions concerning home water filtration systems were asked of each respondent for this particular paying brand.
The omnibus survey gathered honest perspectives on objectives through an unbiased third-party lens with the help of our market research company.
To address the objectives at-hand, our market research company recommended using an omnibus survey to collect consumer feedback.
The omnibus survey was a single survey administered to many respondents which inquired about a variety of topics and questions. This included questions for the household consumer product brand and a variety of other brands.
The more sponsors there are, the greater the breadth of topics covered.
The omnibus survey provided the consulting firm and its consumer goods client with cost-effective means to ask consumers specific questions and collect fast results.
The omnibus survey took an average of 3 minutes to complete and included 15 questions for the client. It received 2,000 total responses. Fieldwork began and concluded in a single day.
The final deliverables included access to an online portal, an aggregate report, five crosstab reports, and a raw data file.
The report answered the following questions:
- How do consumers get their drinking water?
- What type of filtration system do consumers use, if any?
- Where do consumers store their filtration system?
- What are the main considerations when purchasing a filtration system?
- How often do consumers replace the filter in their system?
- Why do consumers choose to filter their water?
- How did consumers decide on their specific filtration system?
- What concerns do consumers have about their local water?
Conducting research is essential to any brand's marketing and operational success.
The more research you conduct, the more data you can collect, and the more data you collect, the more extensive it can be analyzed and interpreted for making smart business decisions.
But not all market research is one and the same, and this is particularly true of surveys.
There are a lot of national omnibus survey firms that can help your company, brand, or organization with a project.
The choice can be a difficult one as you try to differentiate one market research company from another.
Here is a quick checklist of factors to look for when choosing an omnibus survey company.
Examine each of your options and consider the following in your choice 👇👇
Factor 1: Timeliness 🕒
What does their cycle for omnibus survey fieldwork look like? Is it daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.? Are they willing to run your survey off-cycle if you need feedback immediately?
The best companies are willing to work with you to get you what you need when you need it.
Factor 2: Consultative approach 🤝
Part of using a market research firm for this type of study is the ability to leverage their experience and expertise.
Don’t look for a firm that simply asks you to send them the questions you want to ask.
The best omnibus survey firms will offer guidance on question-wording, phrasing, style, and other parts of survey design to ensure you are getting the best results.
Factor 3: Responsiveness 📨
When you send the request in for your project and it takes the firm 3 days to respond, that’s probably not a good sign. Responsiveness ties to timeliness.
Find a firm that will treat you like a priority from start to end.
Factor 4: Quality of sample 👌
Some of the best companies have auditing and quality control measures in place on surveys.
This includes the following measures:
- Red herring questions to flag poor respondents (i.e., select “4” on this rating scale).
- Time to complete (review the top 10% fastest respondents to see if it was realistic)
- IP addresses (review metadata to identify several responses coming from the same IP)
- Examine open-ends (check text responses for erroneous answers)
Factor 5: Reporting options and value-adds ➕
Examine the deliverables for each vendor you look at. Ask for an example report or dashboard. Not all deliverables are created equal.
If those are all needs, find a company that can offer these solutions in-house so you don’t have to work with 3 or 4 separate agencies to share the survey results.
Here is an example of a social snippet we've shared from a market research project.
So you are ready to get on the bus? Contact your omnibus survey companies for a quote or proposal.
The proposal outlines all of the related fees and additional services. It should also highlight the timeline, process, and experience the firm has with omnibus surveys.
Interested in working with Drive Research? Here are 4 options to contact our team of experts.
- Message us on our website
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call us at 888-725-DATA
- Text us at 315-303-2040
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.