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Did you really mean to include an 88 year old man?

My father-in-law called me last night saying he had received an invitation to respond to an online survey. He was wondering if the people who issued the invite really wanted to hear the opinions of an 88 year old man. I assured him he should respond to the survey and his opinions would represent those of a smaller proportion of the sample population – an important responsibility! But then I started wondering if those who had set up the sample parameters really had meant to include an 88 year old or if it was a matter of sloppy sampling – as in, “let’s sample everybody 18 and over.”

Don’t get me wrong, I also dislike sampling that is too targeted based on someone’s (possibly misguided) assumptions over who actually uses the product. Inclusivity, or a general population sample, definitely have their places when trying to determine the marketing target for a new brand of toothpaste for example, but other products or services call for a more tailored approach. Consider a label test for wine. Women drink more wine than men, but does this mean we should exclude men? Probably not, since the heaviest wine users are actually baby boomer males. Historically, wine was typically a drink for those closer to 30 than for those who had just turned 21. But, this demographic is shifting. How do we know? By being more inclusive in our sampling. If the wine industry had continued to target their heaviest users – male, baby boomers – they would have missed the rising tide of wine-drinking millenials.

So, I guess what I am saying is, we should all give a bit more consideration to who is included in our survey targets. Are they the people who actually use the product or is there something about their demographic that precludes them from using it – age, gender, income – whatever might bump them out of the marketing target? If not, then including them in the sample will provide us with a better picture of the entire market and will help identify shifts in behavior, such as the increase in wine consumption by millenials.