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The key to participation: How incentives impact market research

I’ve listened (and participated!) for years in the debate over the use of incentives in the research industry. Do rewards increase participation rates? Do they skew results? Are they beneficial or detrimental? I find that much of this debate has come about due to the historically transactional nature of incentives – payment in exchange for a service. Today, however, incentives have the ability to transcend mere transactions.

Incentives impact participation rates

It’s no surprise that survey incentives can directly improve participation rates. Even so, research conducted by Eleanor Singer of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan found a few key distinctions between the type of incentives and the impact on participants:

  • Cash is king – Singer noted that monetary rewards, and particularly pre-paid incentives, had better results than gifts or other types of incentives. However, different people may be motivated by different incentive offerings.
  • Cost savings – Incentives increase response rates, usually by reducing refusals but sometimes by reducing noncontacts, which can result in lower sampling costs and decreased time in field.

Leveraging incentives properly Research has shown that for incentives to provide the maximum benefit, they have to be leveraged properly. For example, offering massive sums of money may not increase participation rates at a pace faster than a more modest sum – there’s a middle ground.

“How can we bridge the gap between the research and the respondent?”

I spend an incredible amount of time with our clients at Virtual Incentives determining the best incentive strategies to bridge the gap between the research and the respondent. How you handle incentive payment is equally important. The incentive process itself has traditionally been pretty time consuming. However, given the ease and availability of virtual incentive programs, payments can be emailed immediately, providing the instant gratification that participants are actively seeking – particularly when pre-paying incentives isn’t an option.

Customization is key We live in an age where there are hundreds of thousands of online retailers and digital payment options, yet so often today we fail to use technology to tailor rewards to our respondents. Customized incentives serve as a bridge between the participant and the researcher. Virtual gift cards can actually be tailored to each respondent, creating a more personalized incentive experience and transforming the traditional “payment in exchange for services” exchange into a deeper and more meaningful demonstration of gratitude. I think that’s what we’re all striving for as marketers and researchers: A genuine connection with the consumer, our most valuable asset.

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