One of the largest headaches in market research is getting consumers to participate. Unfortunately, most information on sampling technique is limited to academia.
Learning about the four most common types of sampling from a business perspective goes a long way in helping to decide the best approach to support your research goals.
Simple Random: The academic ideal, everyone has an equal chance of participating in the total population to create the purest, most objective sample type. However, there are a few issues that make this theoretical ideal problematic for business application.
Most market research studies focus on a specific audience, not the total population. For example, if you are an infant/toddler daycare provider, your focal audience would be households with children under the age of five in them.
According to U.S. Census data, these households make up 6.5% of the population. So for every 100 households, only about 7 (being generous) will even qualify for the study. And these are parents of young children we’re talking about. Getting to use the bathroom by themselves is a major accomplishment, let alone completing a survey.
The second set of issues are even more bottom-line (excuse the bathroom pun). Reasonable timelines and budgets cannot sustain the years of waiting it often takes for the right people to wander into a study.
Something else to be aware of; there is a common misconception recruiting respondents from social large media platforms is a type of simple random sample.
Because each platform varies in its demographic makeup, social networks don’t tend to represent the general population accurately. Another issue is the way in which opt-in ads are seen by potential respondents. The algorithms that redirect your invitation in nearly endless ways to audiences (and bots) also have the potential to skew your results in potentially biasing ways.
Convenience: Loyalty programs, customer contact info, and direct marketing lists are just some of the many types of internal databases housed by businesses.
While it seems like a no brainer to put these lists to work, it is important to remember that anything designed for promotional or service purposes has a high risk of being disproportionately made up of the following groups (vs. a natural fallout of your total viable audience).
- Super fans: I love anything you do and I’m happy to tell you all about it
- Apathetic: I’ll say anything I think you want me to, just give me my freebie or coupon
- Super haters: I had a bad experience with your products and I’m happy to tell you all about it
This is NOT to say that “convenience” audience members are not important. They are often your core customers who absolutely need to be heard and included in strategic planning. Just be sure to augment internal research with objective, externally sourced sample to stay grounded with perspectives outside of the organization- especially in innovations work.
Judgement: In addition to getting a multi-dimensional view, expert interviews that explore how a specific audience will likely feel/think/act have cost and timing benefits as you can cover a wider swath of coverage with fewer participants.
This method is a great two-birds with one stone approach. For example, interviewing a health professional who treats certain ailments gives perspective not only on their patients but also how likely they are to prescribe the treatment(s) being studied.
As judgment sampling is an indirect approach, it is best used to accelerate or round out consumer research, such as conducting qualitative interviews with experts to determine what should be in a survey being sent directly to the consumers.
Quota: This gold standard of market research embodies the objective spirit of simple random sampling but more proactively manages the process to achieve timely, relevant, and actionable results.
Independent research companies essentially mimic the total population by building balanced panels through a variety of channels (e.g., phone, in-person, web-based, social media, etc.). Profiling information from members is used to determine who should be invited to participate in a specific study as well as for vetting its members (no bots allowed!).
Once accepted into a panel, consumers are incentivized to participate in research studies through cash payments or drawings. Branded incentives, such as gift cards or free/discounted products, are cautioned against to keep the data as bias-free as possible.
Costs for utilizing a panel service vary based on how easy the target audience is to find (aka incidence) and typically start around $6 for a 10-minute survey and $75 for a focus group.
The total number of people included a study is determined on several criteria, the most critical being reliability of results (often a statistical question) and budget. Panel houses partner with methodology experts to assist in this process.
You’d be surprised what can be accomplished with just a small group of vetted survey participants from these objective, data quality-driven panels. Reliable insights from one hundred panel members (vs. 10,000 unchecked social media participants/bots or eager to please internal database members) is a strategic asset to any decision-making arsenal. Three well recruited focus groups can inform business strategy for years ahead.
Whatever sample option you choose will ultimately depend on the best fit for your research project goals. As you can see, you have plenty of options available to support your business decision-making.