I suspect we all struggle with finding the right incentives. Unless you have unlimited budget or have off-the-scale NPS promoters (a.k.a. Polaris Indian motorcycle buyers), incenting customers to participate in research is a challenge. I once joked that the only universal need we all have, that is 100% usable and cheap enough for any research budget is toilet paper. But putting your logo on sheets of T.P.? Probably not.
Several of my clients use sweepstakes. Win an iPad. Win a $100 Visa gift card. It an enticing offer, but most people assume they won't win. Heck, I play Bingo at the local legion once a week, and I know the odds are that I'll leave with $20 less in my purse (I know, Pam Grout would be disappointed in me). The incentive to play Bingo isn't only the pot of $200 per game; it's the other benefits; hanging out with friends and connecting with the heart of my local community.
When are Sweepstakes an appropriate incentive in research? I think Sweepstakes are best utilized when it's a smaller online research community, the people have some familiarity with each other and it isn't a cast of 300+ which decreases the chance to win. Think Bingo night at the legion. You might be disappointed you didn't win, but you can still celebrate the winner and have fun participating (i.e. the research study was short, fun and had relevance to what your tribe cares about).
The benefit: everyone gets something. The barrier: this gets expensive.
True Story: I was desperate to get responses from a tough professional audience (finance executives) and the budget was tight. We offered a $10 gift card for completing a 10-question survey. I got an email back that was "F%&* you and your $10, my time is worth more than that." I wanted to email him back and ask how much time it took to read the email and email me back, but refrained from reacting, or crying. I chalked it up to a finance guy having a bad day.
When are Gift Cards an appropriate incentive? When you can afford them, and the more immediate the better. G2 Crowd recently sent me a request to fill out a survey for a company I have experience using. I liked their invite - it was something like "Know what it's like to find $10 in your pocket? We just found $10 for you." It re-framed the $10 to feel like it was a bonus find, rather than "Do us a favor and we'll send you a $10 gift card."
I have an unpopular opinion here, but I'll say it anyway. This system bugs me. I don't like keeping track, and I don't like how many clicks my little mouse and I have to make to navigate our way to reach "redeem now." After searching and debating: American Eagle for my daughter or $75 at a Chili's restaurant? I hit the close button and decide to let the points rack up higher. Maybe I'll include the Points in my Will to my daughters.
A light bulb just went off for me. I just read an article about how if a teen invests $3/week they could be a millionaire by retirement. What if an incentive program was an investment program? Hmm. I'll need to contact Acorns.
When are Points an appropriate incentive? I think Points work when you have a fairly engaged audience of respondents who take your surveys on a regular basis, and the points reflect relevant incentives that are easy to cash in. Also if you are running a points program, make it super-dee-duper obvious somewhere in the email invite how many points they have, how many points this survey offers, and how far away they are from their next reward.
When appropriate, this a great and easy incentive. Basically it's this: You take this survey, we'll donate $5 to the Humane Society. Know your audience and what resonates with them. A pharmaceutical company I work with allows the respondent to select from a list of charities, and circles back in the thank you email to give tallies of how much went to each charity.
When are Charity donations an appropriate incentive? When the cause resonates with your target audience. I have also seen this used on a local level, e.g. Upon completing this survey we will donate $5 on your behalf to fund pencils and notebooks for ABC Elementary School.
The Best Incentive?
An authentic, personal thank you that shows you (insert your name here) are listening and reading every response so you understand the needs of your customer base. Keep it real. Share some results back. Randomly email some of your tribe members and tell him, her or they that you appreciate their participation. Tell them what you learned, or follow up with a question from an open end. Just because we can automate and work-flow communication doesn't mean we should always follow the rules.
If you are struggling with finding the right incentive for your audience, send me a note. Brainstorming is my favorite.