It is common practice for market researchers to encourage participation in research studies by providing incentives. What many researchers struggle with is the decision to provide multiple incentives of a smaller value, or fewer incentives of a larger value, as well as, what type of incentive to offer. Which option will encourage optimal participation? Opinions vary on the best approach, but there are a couple tips to keep in mind when deciding which incentive strategy to utilize to encourage voluntary participation.

  1. Consider the Methodology

How are you gathering the data? Are you implementing a focus group, online survey, telephone survey, or in-depth interviews? Or perhaps you will use a mixed-mode approach. It’s important to be mindful of the differences in time commitment for each of these modalities, and be prepared to reward participants accordingly. For example, focus groups and in-depth interviews tend to take the most time to complete, and will therefore require a larger investment (in most cases) than a 5-minute online survey. An additional caveat to consider with focus groups is the travel time invested on the part of the participant. Unlike a survey respondent who can participate remotely via numerous electronic devices, a typical focus group participant must be physically present and responsible for their own transportation. This additional level of investment on behalf of the participant influences the incentive expectation.

  1. Consider the Content

Regardless of the research modality chosen, the content being requested from the participant will play a large role in response rate. If the content is perceived too personal for the incentive being offered, the response rate will drop. In that case, it will be critical to understand the incentive preferences of the target audience. More on that topic below.

  1. Consider the Audience

Do you know anything about the preferences of your audience? For example, a younger group of participants may find value in knowing that upon the completion of a survey, they will be guaranteed a free Redbox code which can be redeemed for a DVD rental, while an online survey targeting senior citizens may not find as much success with that approach. There are a myriad of incentive options available, from every gift card imaginable, to digital codes for Redbox and Amazon, product giveaways (such as the commonly used iPad giveaway), and good old fashioned cash. If you are in tune with your target audience, you may already have the data you need to determine which incentive is the optimal choice. Do you have demographic information such as age, gender, educational attainment, and current work status? Using available demographic information may allow you to make an educated inference into the preferences of your target audience.

  1. Consider Incentive Fees

Some gift cards require activation fees, and unless the incentive is in the form of a digital code that can be emailed, the incentive will require fees for postage and internal administrative costs to prepare the mailings. These costs can add up quickly depending upon the expected number of completions from the study, so it will be important to set aside a portion of the project budget to cover these expenses.

  1. Consider Experimenting

If your organization routinely conducts research, the best approach may be trial and error. Start with an incentive strategy that current knowledge of the audience suggests may be most valuable, and update accordingly. Consider experimenting with different types of incentives (cash, products, and gift cards), the value of the incentive, and number awarded. Here at RMS, we routinely conduct focus groups, online surveys, in-depth interviews, and telephone interviews, so we have been able to establish a general guideline that has proven effective for our clients. The golden rule of thumb, however, is that you must consider the research project holistically – the methodology, content, target audience, and project budget – when creating an incentive strategy. Taking the time to create an incentive plan appropriate for the target audience well before conducting fieldwork will set the stage for success.

If you’re interested in conducting a market research project, contact our Business Development Director Sandy Baker at or by calling 315-635-9802.