From the desk of Carolyn Jillson
Getting consumer incentives right sometimes feels like magic, and more of an art than a science. Incentives provide both motivation for respondents to follow through on their commitment to the research, as well as compensation for their time and effort. When project bids are competitive and research dollars are limited, we often end up debating the value of paying what feels like high incentives. Does an average suburban consumer really need $125 to come to a focus group? Do we really have to pay ICU nurses THAT much?
While there is a basic formula that recruiters use to estimate respondent incentives, there are many factors that influence the recommended amount. The three key considerations include:
- The amount of time required: is it a 15-minute interview, or a series of activities over an extended time period?
- The incidence of the target respondent: how selective are the recruiting specs?
- The research method: what is required of the respondent?
No matter how little time or effort is required, we want qualified participants and enthusiastic participation. So there is a basic cost to get people out the door. Because of this, sometimes shorter interviews actually have higher incentives per minute than longer ones.
There are many factors that drive up incentives:
- Needing to talk to a highly trained or very specific target market. There are a limited number of possible respondents, so when recruiters find them, they want incentives to be higher than average so the qualified person is more likely to agree to participate.
- Asking people to go to a specific store or cook a particular product. We need them to do the activity in a timely manner.
- A longitudinal study, when we want to keep participants engaged over time. This is as true for projects that are extended over several days as it is for projects extended over weeks or months.
- Self-ethnographies and online projects require less travel time and, in theory, less effort for the participants. But in these cases, we rely on the participants to follow through, to log-in, to answer the questions and complete the activities. The participants need to mange themselves. There is no facility hostess to remind them to fill out the form completely. So we usually increase incentives to motivate people to engage completely.
- The weather can influence incentives. When it’s raining hard or a snowstorm is expected, people are more likely to cancel. So to make the trip out into inclement weather worth their while, we often increase incentives or offer a bonus for people who show up on time.
It is important to note that additional elements of the research can be used to engage respondents as much as, or even more than, cash. Respondents can be especially motivated by the topic of the research and excited to voice their opinions. Think beta testing new software, restaurant operators discussing kitchen equipment design, employees giving feedback on their training, or outdoor enthusiasts discussing the benefits of new products. So it is often motivating to let people know as much as you can about the research topic up front.
Finally, it is also important to engage respondents as much as possible. No matter how big the incentive, there is always a risk of taxing respondents with repetitive questioning or tedious tasks. An engaging discussion in a focus group, or fun and creative exercises on a bulletin board, draw people in. When we get the balance right, we see participants go above and beyond what we ask of them.