Rethinking Market Research Incentives

Participation is the underpinning of market research. If not for respondents agreeing to respond, our jobs as market researchers would be pretty boring indeed. As a result, much of our time is focused on what it takes to instigate participation. What incentives do we, as those asking for someone’s time and information, need to provide?

I came across a great post on this very subject earlier this week. The post was actually written around this time last year by Diane Hagglund over at Dimensional Research, but I’m glad she resurrected it via Twitter (you can find her at @DimensionalR), as a missed it last time around.

There’s no precise right answer here on what the right incentive is, or even if a tangible incentive is necessary. But Diane gives an example of a recent study she conducted for a long-time customer. When this survey was conducted in the past, a $25 stipend was offered. In the most recent incarnation, the incentive budget was unavailable so the survey went forward without any compensation. Here’s what she found:

  • We got the same number of completes as last year – when we did offer a stipend!  The customer base had grown by 15% so we can expect that the lack of stipend hit our response rate by that much, but we still had a very significant response rate so the results were valid.
  • Responses were higher quality than in the past (as evaluated by the thoughtfulness of responses to open-ended questions).  Since nobody completed the survey just for the $25, participants were more engaged.  They took the time because they cared.
  • Perhaps this wouldn’t have worked the first time? This was the fourth in a series of customer surveys, and this client has definitely responded to the findings of past surveys.  Perhaps their customers now realize the survey is worth their time for other reasons then the stipend?

The takeaway? Incentives are not an exact science, but your approach is worth considering from study to study and year to year. There may be a better balance to strike between budgets and participation.

For some additional reading on the subject, Diane also has a great post discussing guidelines for compensating participants. Well worth a read.

About Joshua Hoffman

Joshua Hoffman is Technology Specialist at Microsoft and a frequent contributor to Research Access.

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