Managing incentives for market research participation can be a guessing game. When is a $100 reward not high enough to generate a survey response? How much money do I stand to lose because incentives are not claimed?

With some simple guidelines and a proper incentives management system, you can alleviate many headaches, reduce complaints, save money, and gain control as you simplify the process.

-- Jignesh will present “Best Practices for Using Incentives in Market Research” at CRC, October 8-10 in Orlando. --

In the meantime, here are some “Dos & Don’ts” to help you better manage your incentives. 

DON’T: Overestimate or Underestimate the value of your incentive.
There’s no exact science to this, but there are many different levers you can pull to reach your goal. A highly paid executive may require $200 or more to take a survey based on his/her salary/bonus level. Think of it like this: Apple CEO Tim Cook cashed in $121 million in stock options earlier this year. While a $100 prepaid card is a nice incentive, it’s probably not going to get Cook to respond. The best rule of thumb is to match the value of the incentive to the respondents’ time, taking into consideration their income. It’s why a $5 incentive may be a great offer for a consumer taking a quick survey, but a doctor may need much more. You can take this even further when you consider the time involved. It’s obvious a respondent is less likely to respond to a 30-minute survey for a $5 gift card. However, what if it made sense for you to send them a $30 gift card, particularly if it was a rare or “less likely to respond” population?

Incentive values also should change based on other factors. If you are sending something of deep personal interest to Cook, he might respond for far less. At some point, increasing the value of the incentive in your survey won’t help your response rate. Make sure you take into account your budget, what you are giving respondents and whom you are targeting (income, interest level, etc.) when deciding on the value of your incentive.

DON’T overspend on your incentives.
There’s nothing more frustrating than spending money on incentives that don't get claimed (or sent). Since you have to oversee your budget, it makes sense to work with an incentives management system that will allow you to get refunds on unsent and unclaimed rewards. This way, you can apply the funds to another survey.

DO automate and integrate rewards into your survey platform.
Use an incentives management system that easily integrates with your survey platform. You will reduce the time and effort you spend on administering rewards. With the integration, you can automate the delivery process so your approved respondents can get rewards upon survey completion.

DO keep all your rewards information in one place.
Many researchers run multiple studies simultaneously, some in the field in several countries across the world. A single platform makes it easy to track and manage the incentives.

DON’T let rewards compromise the anonymity of your survey.
Delivering rewards should not require your survey to collect personally identifiable information like an email address, which compromises anonymity. Your rewards and survey tools should integrate in a way that the reward delivery is connected, yet decoupled from the survey. Responses should be kept completely anonymous and the information used to trigger reward delivery should not be connected to the specific response. This way, you and your respondent can feel confident the survey response is completely confidential.

DO keep your respondents satisfied.
Are you dealing with complaints from respondents who are having trouble redeeming their reward? You want respondents to leave each research experience with positive feelings. This will have them more inclined to participate in the future. Use an incentives management system that’s going to make the process just as easy for them as it is for you to administer it. You’ll avoid complaints from impatient respondents asking about status of their reward.

DO let your respondents select their reward.
Not everyone drinks Starbucks coffee. Not everyone shops at Amazon. However, everyone likes choices. At the same time, having too many options or offering rewards that aren’t a good fit can create an unfavorable experience. The rewards you offer should fit with the value of your incentive, preferences of your recipients, and be aligned with your brand or topic of your study. For example, rewarding a wellness survey with fast-food gift cards should be avoided. Think about curating a selection of gift cards for your respondents.

DON’T mess around with compliance.
Since compliance differs from state to state and country to country, you need to track and retain all information that may be required for audits and compliance purposes. A centralized incentives management system can ease the burden of keeping track of all the necessary information for the Sunshine Act, IRS reporting, and other requirements.

DON’T wait to send incentives all at once.
If you send your incentives in one batch at the end of your study, you’re potentially making your respondent wait weeks to receive it. It’s no secret people expect rapid delivery of items they value. Avoid complaints about delayed or missing rewards by sending them frequently as the study progresses.

DO send rewards from your own trusted email address.
It’s important to send the reward from you, not a third party your respondent won’t recognize. You run the risk they will ignore it in their inbox. Think about how good they’ll feel when they receive a branded email from you in their inbox with the reward within minutes of finishing your survey.

Use a system that can manage the entire incentives process for you. A good incentives management system will automate your process and send your rewards instantly. It will eliminate the guesswork involved with sending and redemption, and provide detailed data that will give you great insights into every campaign. The right platform can reduce the time you spend administering your program. Just be sure it integrates with the other software you use.

-- Learn more about managing your market research incentives from Jignesh at CRC, October 8-10 in Orlando. --