Types of survey incentives
Incentives are typically offered in two forms: monetary and non-monetary. Examples of monetary incentives include cash or its equivalent: gift cards, checks, coupons, or discounts off the value of a product or service. Non-monetary incentives are often delivered as thank-you gifts, which are small tokens of appreciation. Non-monetary incentives can also be more creative, such as a charitable donation made in the research participant’s name.
Incentives can be used to increase response rates to quant surveys. Considering that people are generally busy or overloaded with requests for their time, an incentive can help a particular survey stand out above the noise of other offers. That said, while monetary incentives have been shown in a number of studies to outperform all other types of incentives in driving better response rates, there is a point at which offering a larger incentive payment reaches its maximum ROI.
This point of diminishing returns depends on the type of survey administered, the value of the incentive offered, and the target respondent. For example, offering consumers an incentive payment of $10 to complete a 10-minute online survey likely will result in a strong response rate, provided that the onboarding and execution process is clearly explained and easy to follow. While increasing that payment to say, $50, may attract an additional number of respondents, response rates will cap out at a certain level. Furthermore, the additional expense of paying those incentives likely will overtake any benefit or return from those additional completes, thereby reducing the overall recruitment campaign’s return on investment. A very high incentive payment may also introduce bias into the survey, attracting respondents who are more interested in the payment, rather than providing information.
However, for other types of research, particularly B2B surveys and in-depth interview recruiting, a more valuable incentive will often be required. For one, respondents may view the information sought as being of a higher value than typical consumer information. They also may feel less inclined to provide competitive or sensitive information for a nominal incentive payment. What’s more, the interview may need to be conducted on the respondent’s personal time, and therefore in the mind in of the respondent, the interview warrants a better incentive.
Keep in mind that if you’re researching with business professionals, an incentive payment that is valued at significantly lower amount than the professional’s hourly rate may be ignored, due to simple economics (an attorney billing $400 per hour is unlikely to take an hour out of his or her day for a $50 gift card).
High Value Conditional Incentives
Consider how your organization may be able to design some type of incentive that has both a high perceived value to the respondent, but also helps drive your overall business forward.
That’s where the use of an incentive tied to a desired product or service may also be seen as being even more valuable than a cash incentive, and may also generate benefits for other parts of your organization.
For example, conference companies looking to do research with their key target respondents might want to consider providing a free night of hotel accommodation as an incentive for participating in an in-depth research interview, in lieu of a cash payment.
In this incentive program, the following benefits can be derived:
- The incentive is directly tied to information related to the business or industry, rather than simply being viewed as a “payment” to an individual.
- The incentive is seen as having real value by the participant, as most people understand that conference hotel sleeping room rates, while lower than regular rates, are generally valued at $150 or more for most major cities, and are actually worth even more when factoring in availability and the potential for rate escalation due to increasing demand.
- Presenting the overall cost to attend a conference at say, $1,000 plus one night at the hotel, instead of two nights, makes it easier to “sell” his or her attendance at the event to his or her boss.
For the organization conducting the research, there are also benefits.
- Driving additional attendance -- If the respondent accepts the incentive, he or she is guaranteed to attend the conference, which helps increase conference revenue, keeps sponsors and exhibitors happy, and helps to fill up that room block, or the guaranteed number of hotel rooms the organizer has contracted to fill.
- Make sure to specify in the offer language that the respondent must register for the conference by a specific date, is responsible for ancillary charges and for booking their other room nights, and that the offer is non-transferrable to others.
- The incentive is conditional -- If the respondent chooses not to attend the conference, no incentive “payment” is due. Note that this type of conditional payment is most appropriate for B2B research where the subject has a vested interest in the topic and/or event, and only needs a little extra “push” to make time in his or her day to spend with the researcher.
- To control costs, consider offering this type of incentive to only high-value subjects, whose participation in either the research or whose presence at the event will help generate additional buzz or revenue, thanks to additional attendees or sponsors signing on. It is also advisable to stagger the roll-out of this type of incentive, to keep a close eye on potential costs and to see if the incentive is working. If all of your initial 20 contacts accept the incentive, it may be useful to continue the program with additional targets. Conversely, if no one is responding to the offer, find out why, and then readjust your offer accordingly.
Planning, Marketing and Execution
To manage the planning, marketing, and execution of research incentives, keep these elements in mind:
Budget and Audience: If you’re surveying physicians or attorneys, ensure that you have allotted an appropriate budget for incentives. A senior executive making $175,000 per year is unlikely to respond to a survey offering a $25 Amazon gift card. As state above, consider in-kind or other types of alternative incentives if a straight cash payment is deemed too expensive for your organization.
Incentive Marketing: Be very aware as to how your market and position your incentive. Some studies have indicated that paying out an incentive prior to the research being conducted increases response rates, but it creates a situation where the respondent can set the terms of the engagement. By clearly stating that the incentive will be delivered after meeting the terms of the research engagement (e.g. a fully completed online survey; a 30-minute phone interview; full participation in a focus group), it ensures that incentive payments are directly tied to the full completion of the research engagement, and may help to weed out those only looking for a quick buck.
Messaging: Have you ever received a robo-call and listened beyond the “You have been selected to win a _______?” message. Nope, I haven’t either. So, when presenting an offer, consider leading with the purpose of the survey first, then with the terms of the incentive. You’ll get better qualified respondents, as they’ll have self-selected to those who have some level of interest in the research topic, rather than those who are simply interested in the incentive.
Execution: For post-engagement incentives, it is important to clearly state to the respondents the nature of the incentive, how it will be delivered, and the terms and time frame for delivery. Illustrating these key elements of the offer will be key to establishing confidence among respondents that the offer is legitimate and will be fulfilled. Clearly delineating the limits and exclusions of the offer prevents any confusion, and ensures that all parties fully understand that the primary aspect of the engagement is the research itself, rather than the incentive.