It’s not Rocket Science – 2. Survey population

Effectively designed and conducted market research provides a highly valuable business resource. Structure and system need to be applied to the key phases of; objective, population, sample, questionnaire, interviewing, analysis, reporting and action.

For the 2nd of our research insights, we are looking at defining the survey population.

The starting point for the survey population will be the research objective. This will identify who it is that we need to hear the views from in order to provide the insight for direction.

A customer survey could start by defining “all customers” as the survey population, but do you need to hear the views of all customers? If there is a specific issue or location where insight is needed, then this could help define the survey population further and make it tighter.

If you have a service that is “relevant to all UK adults”, is it really relevant to everyone, or would a stronger focus be on adults with a certain level of income and spare time?

There needs to be a clear and defined survey population which comprises “the target market” for the research – the individuals, consumers, customers, businesses, groups or stakeholders whose views are needed to meet the research objective.

The survey population differs from the survey sample in that the survey population comprises everyone who falls into the target market whilst the survey sample comprises the actual individuals who participate in and contribute to the research.

For example, if you have 10,000 customers and you are looking to conduct a customer satisfaction survey, the survey population will comprise all 10,000 customers. The survey sample will be the x number of customers whom are interviewed and in doing so, contribute to the survey itself.

The survey population can be very broad, for example all UK adults, or very narrow, for example, adults living in Cambridge aged 60 years old in full time employment and working in the education sector.

Broad and narrow survey populations each have their benefits and drawbacks. The key element in designing the survey population is that it comprises the target market whose views are needed to meet your research objective.

A broad survey population makes it easier to identify and engage with the individuals or businesses with whom you want to engage. For example, all manufacturing businesses in the UK are easier to identify and much more numerous than manufacturers of wallpaper located in North Yorkshire.

Not taking the time to accurately define your survey population and taking a “broad brush” approach can mean that the research net is cast too wide. Views can be gathered from respondents who “are interesting but not directly relevant”. Sufficient sample sizes can mean that the data can be drilled down to consider only specific characteristics, but it is generating a lot of leg work that would be alleviated by a clear initial definition.

A narrower survey population typically means that the survey population is smaller. Whilst this can make it harder to find and engage, it does mean that confidence levels generated can be more robust with a smaller sample. This means typically that not as many respondents need to be interviewed to generate a specified standard error. Keeping the survey population restricted to the key profiles also helps to keep the focus on the areas of core importance.

If uncertain, always refer back to the research objective – this will provide the starting point and direction for the survey population. As we will see throughout the series, each process is strongly based on the initial objective that was set – highlighting the importance to ensure this is both relevant and clear.  

Our next research insight document will detail survey samples.

If you would like any advice in the meantime on how to progress effectively then please get in touch.

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