Do incentives matter?

walletWe are a busy society. There seems to be less and less time for the smaller things. This is one trend that is negatively impacting survey response rates. This is a trend in both consumer and B2B marketing research. Unless you are lucky enough to survey a rabid fanbase then response rates will always be a concern.

This is where incentives come into play. In their simplest form an incentive is a bribe on the part of the researcher in exchange for the cooperation of the participant. That cooperation takes the form of a click on the link, honest answers, and a registered survey completion. A purest may say that incentives will bias the results of your survey. There is some truth to this and we as survey researchers have to be open to this. However, in an ever increasingly complicated world incentives for survey response are part of the equation.

What options are available for incentives? Historically incentives have ranged from a postage-paid envelope to return the mail survey to the inclusion of a one or two dollar bill in the invitation. As we have progressed to an online survey design incentives have shifted with the times. Now we offer gift cards, points toward magazine subscriptions, donations to a preferred charity, instant access to survey results (a big draw in the B2B world), amongst others. Some of these are delivered by mail, or in some cases delivered via email, such as a gift code for Amazon.

Which format should we use? This is an excellent question and should be directed to your survey participants. It is advised to include a question periodically that asks what type of incentives would resonate. Alternatively you could ask what activities your survey participants are involved and choose incentives that correlate, e.g. if they like to read then perhaps a Kindle or if music is important then perhaps an iTunes card.

Should everyone be included or should we use a drawing? I recently came across a case study conducted by e-Rewards that showed the offer of a two dollar incentive to all who responded versus a drawing was effective at increasing response rates (19.3% 12.2%), and in the end cost less than the $2,500 drawing.

Incentives are important to generating response. Are they more important than other factors, e.g. proper targeting? That is difficult to say, but we should keep an eye out for potential differences in response patterns between incented versus non-incented respondents. A question to ask yourself would be “Do incented respondents think differently of our brand, or show higher levels of customer satisfaction, than non-incented participants?”

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