As a consultant, you understand that surveys are one of the most important tools for collecting primary research. A well-informed approach to representative methodology can help ensure that you’re getting the most accurate results for your clients by making certain you’re reaching an audience that reflects your target market within the broader population.
Without considering representative methodology in your survey design, you risk skewed results, leading to poor decisions.
Understanding Representative Methodology in Consumer-Focused Surveys
The right way to approach representative methodology is to make no assumptions about your market profile. At the beginning of the survey ideation process, your goal should be to reach a pool of respondents that accurately reflects the population. In the United States, this can be done using information readily available from the U.S. Census Bureau.
To accomplish this, you must clearly communicate your goals with your panel provider.
Approaching Representative Methodology
The best way to ensure your representative methodology is on target is not to make assumptions about which people you want to target as you design your survey. This may seem counterintuitive, especially for people new to survey design. After all, if you are researching cryptocurrency, it only seems logical to survey younger audiences. Likewise, if you are researching nail polish, why not just survey women?
Representative methodology strategy says to ignore your assumptions and start with the intention of distributing your survey to a sample that reflects the entire population. From these results, you are best prepared to establish an accurate market profile. Your panel provider can help you decide the right survey size to help you get meaningful results and ensure the sample is statistically significant.
Putting Representative Methodology Into Practice
It is critical to make sure your questions and response options align exactly with the way demographic information is reported in your country. For example, in the United States, the Census Bureau only records one option for ethnicity. If you allow your respondents to choose more than one ethnicity, your responses will not align properly with the data available from the Census Bureau. Similarly, make sure that the age ranges you provide on your survey can be matched to those reported by your country’s census agency.
The main demographics tracked by the Census Bureau in the United States include:
- Hispanic origin
A very important note: Demographics used in the United States may not be applicable or appropriate to ask in other countries. Also, some countries require informed consent because of local privacy laws. It’s imperative to familiarize yourself with local privacy laws, such as GDPR in Europe. Talk to your panel provider for guidance on navigating local privacy laws outside the United States.
Limitations of Representative Methodology
There are some situations where it is difficult to deploy the representative methodology tactics described here. The most common situation is when you are trying to reach people in target markets or audiences that make up a very small part of the overall population – say, 10% or less. The information can be collected, but it will require reaching an exceptionally large pool of possible respondents, which can be timely and costly. If you are dealing with a situation like this, please discuss potential alternative strategies with your survey partners.
Does Representative Methodology Apply to B2B Surveys?
People sometimes discuss representative methodology in the context of business-to-business surveys, but this can be misleading. With business-to-business surveys, it might not be possible or necessary to reach an audience that is a representative sample of the overall population – after all, census data does not track specific business audiences. What is important is to ensure a good mix across firmographic dimensions, which might include industry type, company size, and revenue. Discuss needs with your survey partners. They can be extremely helpful in making sure you reach the proper audience.