5 considerations when providing incentives for qual MR participants

How should I decide whether to offer an incentive?

Deciding whether to offer an incentive to your market research respondents or not is something that needs to be decided early in the project since it can affect both budget and participant recruitment.  The Market Research Society describes an incentive as “any benefit offered to respondents to encourage participation in a project.” To this end they are a valuable tool for helping to maximise participation since there is greater value to the individual for taking part.

However, care and consideration has to be taken over the choice of, and administration of an incentivisation policy since as well as eating into budgets it can, if the relevant guidelines are not followed correctly, also risk allegations of bribery.  Some worry that incentivising market research respondents can skew data but numerous studies show that whilst they do increase response rates they don’t actually affect response quality. For those where recruitment is unlikely to be challenging therefore then incentivisation isn’t necessarily needed.

What type of incentive works best?

It is well known that monetary incentives generally work best – unsurprising since this offers the widest option for the respondent and can be offered in a number of forms. Other methods can work too however. Prize draws can prove attractive and potentially offer an ever bigger prize than an incentive for everyone policy but are more complicated in terms of organisation, administration and require clear communication with respondents about exactly how they will be run.

Sometimes simple incentives can work – for example a free lunch if the interview or focus group is taking place over lunchtime. Equally the right incentive could be as simple as sharing the research itself with the participants – particularly if it could be useful to them in a work context. This is a useful one to consider since it won’t cost you a penny but obviously you need agreement from the client first.

A definite no is the use of goods or services of the end product or client as an incentive since this is then classified as direct marketing rather than research and is subject to different regulations and restrictions.

Market Research Respondents

What value incentive should I offer?

The Market Research Society says that any incentive should be “reasonable and proportionate”. Ideally it should be balanced to represent the time and effort that your respondents will need to spend on the project whilst still remaining within budget.

A quick survey for example will take less time for the respondent than a more in-depth focus group or in-depth interview so incentive values should be balanced accordingly. A good question is to ask whether it would be enough to persuade you to take part if you put yourself into the shoes of the demographic you are trying to recruit. 

What are the ethical considerations?

Perhaps one of the most important parts of incentivising a market research project is the need to adhere to the MRS Regulations for Administering incentives and Free Prize Draws. Although 18 pages in length essentially the regulations, and the MRS Code of Conduct, sets out a number of imperatives – such as conforming to legislation such as the Data Protection Act, respecting anonymity and ensuring that incentives do not, or are not perceived to constitute, a bribe.

When and how should I give the incentive?

The practicalities of how to give an incentive also need to be considered. An online survey for example may mean it’s complicated to offer cash as an incentive and in this space something like a voucher or discount code may work better.

If offering monetary reward then consider in what form – for example cash, cheque or BACs. You could also consider rewards such as shopping vouchers, gift cards or charitable donations but make sure that these are appropriate to the demographic of the respondents.

Consider too exactly at what stage you are going to offer the incentive and how and when the market research respondents will receive it and ensure respondents clearly understand this at the outset – including whether particular conditions must be met first. In most cases this will be offered at the end of the research but if there is pre-work to complete first it may be sensible to stagger the incentive to keep respondents motivated.

Providing the incentives for participants is one step in ensuring successful fieldwork, next you need to ensure respondents attend the research. Read our blog ' how to reduce no-shows' for more helpful tips and advice:

How to reduce no-shows