Choosing Your Survey Audience

Sampling 101

How to find your Ideal Target Audience (ITA)

Whenever you dive into the world of primary research, you’re bound to encounter terms that sound more like a foreign language, posing a barrier to leveraging a tool that could greatly benefit your business. One term that often confuses people is “sampling” or “sample.” This post aims to shed light on that term, specifically for those who need to conduct research but aren’t researchers themselves. So, if you’re already a sampling expert, feel free to skip this one—it’s not meant for you.

Sampling, a cornerstone of primary research, can trigger conversations that quickly escalate into academic jargon, technical details, and, let’s be honest, a level of boredom that might have you questioning your existence: why am I here, why am I reading this, what the hell is this guy on about, do people exist, am I real, are we part of the matrix, and so on. It’s intimidating, leaving you feeling out of your depth. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.



For a sampling nerd like me who has been doing this for far longer than I care to admit, it’s a fun conversation where I feel in my element. I’m here to share what I’ve learned over the years, simplifying the complexities of sample design for those who prefer a DIY approach. My goal is to equip you with the confidence to engage with the right people, in the right way.

First things first, let’s demystify some key terms you’ll encounter on this journey.

Sample = Audience = People

That’s right—folks just like you and me (or bots, depending on where your sample comes from; wink wink)—fall into three major groups:

Gen Pop = Pretty Much Any Adult

Short for “General Population,” this refers to everyone aged 18 and over. For instance, If your company sells a product that will appeal to everyone, then speaking with a random sample of the general population will typically suffice to give you an understanding of which way the wind is blowing. 

Balanced or Rep Sample = Looks Like Your Audience 

This is a sample that mirrors the demographic composition of the society in the country where you’re conducting your research, based on the latest census data (think age, gender, region).  If you are creating a piece of communication, preparing for a press release, or need results differentiated on age, gender, and region, then you need to have a representative sample of the population to not make your data analyst lose their minds by trying to retrofit census data onto the data post field.

Targeted Audience = Not Gen Pop

This is when you’re looking for a specific group within the general population.


Ok great, where do I find these people?

Getting questions in front of your Ideal Target Audience gets a bit more complex, but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Some would suggest that you develop a very rigorous screener (a series of questions aimed at qualifying the audience and pinning general information about them to help with the analysis) and unleash your survey on the Gen Pop, filtering out the mismatches and keeping the qualifiers. Sure this works in certain cases, but in others, it’s a surefire way to burn through your budget, time, and patience. None of which you have much of. 

The first thing you need to get intimately acquainted with is the incidence rate of the group you’re aiming to connect with, your ITA. Let’s zero in on this crucial concept for a moment.


What’s an Incidence Rate, and what if I don’t have it?

Simply put, the incidence rate is the percentage of respondents from a specific population who meet the criteria to participate in your survey.

For instance, If you’re looking to chat with folks who’ve indulged in fast food recently, you’ll find a relatively high percentage within the general population, I would estimate it to be 70%-80% to be on the conservative side. This is an easy incidence to estimate. Most likely, your research partner will do what I just did and make a safe estimate, confirming they can access this target audience, knowing full well that a significant chunk of the population has visited a fast food joint in the past month.

Now, let’s kick things up a notch. 

Suppose you want insights from Van owners. Spotting these vehicles during your commute might be common, but guessing the percentage of people who own them is another story. So, your sample or research provider will ask you – “Do you know the incidence of this group?” 

Usually when they ask for an incidence rate that typically means they don’t have your audience profiled among their people.

So, you should ask your research provider the following questions: 

  • Are you using your panel, partner, or a blend? (Most providers won’t give you a straight answer)
  • Can you do an incidence check for me? (if yes, then problem solved, if no, then continue with the next question)
  • We have two weeks before needing to have the survey in field, can you profile your panel for me? (yes, great, problem solved!!! If not, then continue to the next question.)
  • Is there another way we can get close to this target using your existing profiling tags? (You might be in luck here, but assuming that the answer is, I don’t know.
  • Ask your partner (or search the profiling kit available in the DIY tool you’re using) if they have access to: 
    • A. Car owners (make sure it’s car owners and not drivers. A driver can have a license but not a car) 
    • B. Parents 
    • C. Number of kids in the Household 

If the above is available, then you can have the following stacked targeting formula: 

A (car owners) + B (parents) + C (have 2 or more kids) = As close as you can get to your ITA. 

This strategy refines your search, saving time, money, and effort by increasing the accuracy of your target. While it’s not an exact science, this approach significantly enhances your chances of connecting with your ITA.

Stay tuned for our next post, where we’ll explore more complex target audiences, specifically in the B2B sector, to further guide your market research efforts.

If you want us to dissect an approach of a specific audience, let everyone benefit from it, and share in the comments and we will include it in one of our posts