So what’s the difference between Omnibus and Ad Hoc surveys?

Tags: comparisonsdifference between panel typeswhats an omnibus?

Working for a communications company has helped improve my listening and communication skills. You’re probably wondering “so what, isn’t that a given?”   I didn’t think so. I thought these tools were pretty well sharpened, after 20 successful years in business.

I earn my living by conducting marketing research. I gather data; provide insight and advice on, well, nearly any product or service.

Part of my role is to provide first-hand, current data to help support Public Relations efforts. This is an exciting part of my job. I get to work with very smart and creative people, across a wide variety of industries and clients. I was accustomed to working with other marketing research folks, so I took our lingo for granted.

I began to notice a variety of references to marketing research that meant something different to each party and sometimes confused me. A few examples: “I want to run a poll, we’d like a methodology for gathering information, or my client wants to do an Omnibus”, among others. The term “Omnibus” popped up more often than others.

As I explained the differences between an Omnibus and “ad hoc/bespoke/custom” research, I started wondering what the real benefits were for each. Given the numerous changes in our industry, I thought it would be a prudent exercise. After all, providing the best research design to clients is essential to a successful study.

Researchers are usually very curious souls. Being one, I began my investigation. My goal was to simply gather facts and make comparisons to the services that Redshift offers since we also offer research—“one question at a time”.

I selected a mix of companies – one that is an industry standard, a couple that are that are offered by large, well-known, companies, and a couple that offer an Omnibus (or several) as part of their product portfolio, but aren’t especially associated with this service.

As I expected, every company focused on two key benefits: incredible cost savings and amazing speed (vs. custom studies).

My next observation was that nearly every company had a paradigm for estimating costs that seemed a bit time-consuming. I thought, well, if I were shopping around and comparing prices and services, it could get a little frustrating. I also thought it would be difficult to estimate the precise number of each type of question. So I created a couple of examples and calculated both the cost per question and the cost per interview/complete.

This is a summary of my observations, considering a general population study among adults in the US 18 years of age or older.

Omnibus Companies Redshift Research
Estimating costs A bit complex and time consuming; requires estimating some variables that may or may not end up being real Very straightforward. In every scenario, we were still the least expensive- for an ad hoc/custom study.

Pleasant surprise? We hope so.

Timing Straightforward schedule- usually 2-3 day delivery We offer the same
Sample source Panel We use the same
Sample representation Scary- but many don’t discuss this. Those who do, balance the sample using different variables such as: age, race or ethnicity, region, income (this is an odd one). A couple of companies only mention that their sample is “nationally representative”. The samples varied a bit between 1,000 (generally the standard) to 2,000.

Having a well-balanced and representative sample is essential for publishing.

We offer 1,000 or customize it for you.
Number and type of questions This aspect varied. A few companies had a limit of 30 questions. However, I have to wonder how many questions in total a respondent could answer without experiencing boredom or fatigue.

After all, the premise of an Omnibus is to have more than one client “buy” a number of questions on various topics. Could some topics be conflicting? Could one topic bias your results? I have to believe that the answer to these questions is no. But it might be good to ask.



The study is yours alone. Your questions and your topic- with advice given by senior –level experts in your field.

Respondent fatigue To be fair, a few companies did touch on this subject and restricted the number of questions per client. I would still want to know how many topics and questions I was buying into. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a respondent’s attention on one topic or perhaps a few that were compatible and flowed nicely.
Deliverables Usually an excel file, with data run by basic demos.    Anything extra is extra money. We offer the same.


My conclusion:   why wait for an omnibus with its associated restrictions to come along when you can have a custom-tailored, at a time scale that suits you?   Value for your money if far better.

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I just wanted to say how brilliant and easy it is working with you guys. Everything you do is painless – you often deliver ahead of time (and sometimes under budget!!!) and are now even offering to give us even more than we asked for.


You’re by far the best research company I’ve worked with, and seem to completely get what we’re looking for the whole time. I’d never recommend anyone else!


Thanks again

Associate Director  Bite Global 

Redshift’s Red Hot Tip

Questionnaire Design:

Keep the number of questions to a minimum to ensure highest possible data quality