Not so long ago, I took part in an online survey. My primary motivation for doing so was the incentive on offer – 5 iTunes downloads. And yet I failed to take use my voucher before the deadline passed. This got me thinking about how incentives are formulated, and how they can encourage or discourage participation in surveys.
Choosing the correct incentive can not only encourage survey participation, but it can also act as a reward for communicating with a brand. I believe this is an area that has been under-explored.
In my previous job, I read a taxonomy of reasons for participation in research that resonated with me (unfortunately I cannot remember the source). From memory, I believe the four major reasons for participation were posited as
- Financial rewards
- Desire to influence/give opinion
- Civic duty
- Release from boredom
The first two bullets are areas that both research agencies and clients should be paying close attention to. Within both, there are several ways to achieve happy respondents that are more positive to both the agency and client brands.
1. Financial rewards
a) Should be properly targeted
Why did I participate in the aforementioned survey? I did so because I use iTunes and I like music. Had the survey-writers deliberately chosen this incentive to attract people like me?
Possibly, but if so then they did a bad job. This time last year, I didn’t use iTunes. And the survey wasn’t even about music. The invite would have been sent out to non-music lovers and non-iTunes users alike. Differences in motivations between iTune users and non iTunes users notwithstanding, this sort of incentive merely alienates. If I saw an incentive was on offer that was useless to me, I would be less inclined to participate than if there were no incentive at all.
Targeting should be done, but it needs to be inclusive. If the survey was about music or on behalf of Apple then iTunes vouchers may be more appropriate. Similarly, a charitable donation would be apt for a survey exploring motivations for giving. But in less targeted surveys, this may not be achievable and so alternatives could be provided.
b) Should be optional
If an iTunes voucher was just one option and an alternative – say, high street vouchers of equivalent value – were also available, then targeted incentives could be incorporated without alienating the primary targets.
Within the taxonomy above, there are sub-groups. Financial motivation may be a reason for participation, but different people are motivated by different levels. Some people want an up-front guaranteed payment. Some may prefer working towards a larger incentive over time. Others may prefer the chance of winning a much larger prize in a lottery. So why not offer all three? Limiting to once incentive may allow more rigid financial planning, but it also limits the number of people attracted to participation.
Providing people with a choice empowers them to select options that are more appropriate to them. Self-defined targeting, if you will.
c) Should be worthwhile
Few would be attracted by a 50p reward for a 30 minute survey. Prize draws may have greater success, but some people will want something tangible.
And this is where the client should help the agency. Clients can provide both financial and non-financial rewards that can vastly increase participation levels.
Looking at a client’s product or service, there will be a discrepancy in the value of an item between the producer and the consumer. So why not take advantage of this? If you are a pasta sauce company, why not offer an incentive of £5 cash or an equivalent amount of pasta sauce at cost price – something that will be worth more than £5 to consumers.
Similarly, an item can go up in perceived value if it is scarce of desirable. Clients are in a position to provide these items. Penguin have given a good example of this with the prize for their We Tell Stories competition.
The prize is the complete collection of Penguin Classics. 1300 books. Buying all of these from a retailer would take a massive effort and cost quite a lot of money. Yet although the value of these books to Penguin is lower than their retail price, the scarcity and difficulty of accumulating them all in one place raises the value of the prize to consumers substantially.
As well as taking advantage of the financial incentives, clients can also offer non-financial rewards that can motivate respondents just as much.
2. Desire to influence/give opinion
a) Empower the respondent
If a respondent is taking part in order to influence, why not let them? Rather than frustrate them with a series of closed questions, let them go off on tangents. Even something like a “Tell me more” option after every question would allow the respondent to say what they wanted. This would not only add qualitative insights on top of the hard data, but more importantly the respondent would feel like they were actively participating in the research.
b) Return the favour
Provide feedback. The respondent has spoken to the client brand. Return the dialogue. Feedback not only on the results but on how the results will be used. Even if it needs to be vague in order to maintain competitive advantage, lip-service can go a long way to forging a bond with respondents. Respondents are after all potential consumers. If they believe they are being listened to, their affinity towards the brand will improve no-end.
c) Allow further opportunities
The initial contact has been made via the survey? Why stop there? Inform the respondents on where they can go for further information or opportunity to provide their opinion. It could be the official website or a company blog. The conversation has begun; their is no reason for it to end.
Paying more attention to these elements is beneficial to all parties involved. The agency’s response rate, the client’s goodwill and the respondent’s satisfaction should all increase. And satisfied respondents will be more likely to engage with both the agency and the client in future. It should be done more often.
Filed under: research | Tagged: Market research, research incentives | 2 Comments »