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What Incentives to Offer to Maximize Research Participant Recruitment

Research participant recruitment is a combination of a labor of love and a strategically thought out process.  There is no magical perfect answer.  Every time, you have to make an honest assessment of the variables and make a decision that makes sense.

Think carefully about the carrot you'll use as incentive for your research participant recruitment

We think of determining incentives as similar to setting a price of a home in real estate.  In real estate there are known factors such as square footage, number of bed/bath, and age of the home. You compare those to recently sold properties in the area to try and determine the market and economic value of the property.

In survey research, the known factors are about the target audience and the specific research engagement. The target respondent demographics such as age, gender, income level, ethnicity, occupation are important.  Project specific factors like nature of the engagement (in-person, on the phone or online), length of time commitment, research topic, and who the respondent is told is conducting the research must be considered. You analyze logical contributing factors and compare your ideas to results on recent comparable research to make a sound business decision. Here are a couple of insights to help with setting incentives.  

  • Money Talks.  Often you need to consider paying respondents. There are many concerns researchers have about this, but it is a widely used practice because it makes a significant difference. If you don't have a quality screening process, cash incentives can get in your way since everyone could use a few extra bucks.  That said, as long as you employ a recruitment process that diligently eliminates potential participants that aren't actually in your target audience, cash is always going to make the top if the incentives list. 

Gift cards also have a place in participants' hearts.  General cash-value gift cards from big name credit card companies will have a much higher acceptance rate than other forms.  If you are going for a less general (but still useful) gift card idea, keep your audience in mind.  A gift card for a local grocery store when doing rewards program research will likely be of high value for participants.  If your participants were talking about cars, a gift card for a gas station would be a relevant incentive. The key is tying the item to the people to whom you're trying to appeal. Take your incentive fulfillment process seriously to ensure you don't end up with someone being added to a marketing list solely because they did your research.

  • Relationship-Creating Rewards.   Incentives won't mean anything to your potential panel if they don't relate to your target demographic. During the research participant recruitment process, you are generally narrowing down the pool based on gender, age, occupation, and other specific factors.As such, you should have a good idea about the lifestyles of your ideal candidates and you should be able to offer rewards that suit those people.  

A combination of rewards with cash value, products that appeal to the audience, and items such as newsletters and free reports reinforce the value of providing feedback and are useful to build a relationship with respondents.  When you want to engage people over and over again in research, treating them like they are your customers goes a long way.

For example, if you were assisting with the formation of a customer loyalty program it would likely have multiple forms of value back to the customer. Points could be earned and redeemed for cash or products. Fulfillment of rewards would be timely. The process would be transparent and easy to understand.  You would want to offer content pieces that would be of interest to the customer to keep them engaged.  All of these practices are also true when managing an ongoing engagement with research participants.

Watch out for possible ethical dilemmas when it comes to sponsorship suggestions, and do your due diligence to ensure that there are no underlying overlaps that you may not see on the surface.  
Incentives are a balance of research integrity, response rates, and completing the research economically.  

Need help identifying incentives that will maximize your own research participant recruitment efforts?  Contact our team at Communications for Research, and let us help you with the process!


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Topics: recruitment, , incentives

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