Incentives are a normal part of any market research project. With each project we ask ourselves: What will we give participants? How much will it cost? How do we sweeten the pot to ensure high participation?
Today we’d like to take a step back and ask: Do we really need to give people stuff to make them talk to us?
Now, before anybody panics, we do believe that most of the time the answer is “yes.” When we’re reaching out to new audiences that we have absolutely no relationship with, we need something to get their attention. And if we’re asking for something big – driving across town to attend a focus group for example – of course the stipend is important. We’ve discussed guidelines for compensating participants in the past, and we still think that post is relevant and useful.
But that doesn’t mean that we always need a “prize.” Especially when working with customers, the best reward might be that they see the feedback they give influencing the product roadmap or support. Sometimes just being heard is a very strong driver.
For example, we have just completed an annual customer survey for a customer we’ve been working with for years. The first 3 years we gave a typical stipend of a $25 gift card to anyone who completed the survey. But, this year the budget was slashed, so we figured we’d try it without a stipend and see what happened. A couple of observations on this test:
- 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?
Net-net: We felt we got at least as good as – and arguably better – results from the customer survey without stipends for less than half the costs of previous surveys. Moving forward, Dimensional Research is making sure we evaluate whether the stipend is truly adding value to a project.