Do Incentives Commoditize Surveys Or Reinforce The Relationship Economy?
Three new studies on the topic of market research and incentives indicate that the old idea of a transactional model of incentives may not be enough and that research participants are looking for something more.
Editor’s Note: This was originally published as a guest post on the Virtual Incentives blog here. I’ve reposted it here on GBB because I think this is topic that we should be exploring here as well. If the idea of using incentives as a relationship builder resonates with you, I encourage you to check out other thought leadership content on the Virtual Incentives website; those guys are super smart and really get it.
Much has been written about the tectonic shift occurring in the relationship between consumers and the world around them, specifically in how individuals interact with stakeholders in the economy such as brands and governments. The idea is summarized in The Relationship Economy model which suggests that transactional, one-off interactions are being replaced by longer-term ongoing value exchanges that support growth for all involved.
To learn more about Relationships Economy on a macro-level, Jerry Michalski has a great series of Prezi’s here: http://prezi.com/3igqdq90g-y0/thriving-in-the-relationship-economy/
Colin Strong of GfK sums this shift up in more pragmatic terms very nicely in this recent post for The Guardian:
“Classic marketing strategy has taught us that a consumer’s decision making process is generally linear; the awareness, interest, desire, action (AIDA) model, often represented as a funnel or pyramid and frequently central to assessing brand performance. However, this model needs updating to reflect how relationships change the way consumers shop. Online reviews, blogs and tweets exist at all stages of the model, leading consumers to deviate from the linear process.
Brand owners now need to ensure that they understand the importance of each touchpoint for the brand and on the relationship with consumers. Every interaction matters. This applies whether touchpoints are bought (paid for marcomms), owned (website, retail store) or earned (editorial, social media comment). However, because the relationship-driven brand model is still emerging, there is no history of best practice.”
The longer term implications of this shift are obviously still to be determined, although the potential seems to be profound. Within the world of market research we are already seeing indicators of the shift in action via the growth of market research online communities, the nuclear-scale explosion of social media-based research (including understanding influence and reach on an individual and macro level), and the rapidly developing concept of the “single-source data exchange” whereby consumers are linking and aggregating their social graph along with transactional, attitudinal and behavioral data and allowing brands access to that data on their terms.
So what does this have to do with incentive systems, especially for surveys? Quite a bit it seems.
Three new studies on the topic of market research and incentives indicate that the old idea of a transactional model of incentives may not be enough and that research participants are looking for something more here too.
First, my friends at Virtual Incentives and I used Google Consumer Surveys to ask 1,500 consumers balanced to US Census a very simple question: “When asked to take a survey, what incentive model is MOST appalling to you?”
We used a list of five common incentive programs as the choices: physical or virtual Visa or store gift cards (which Virtual Incentives offers), access to content (the model Goggle Surveys uses), lottery or drawings (a common tactic in panels or user/customer surveys) and points programs (another model used by many panel companies).
Here is what we learned:
Results were consistent across all demographic categories: age, gender, income and geography in roughly proportionate numbers to the aggregate, meaning that across the board Visa or Store Gift cards are almost twice as appealing as any other reward system. That is compelling stuff.
It certainly appears that when given a choice, survey participants prefer a model that delivers value, flexibility, and speaks to their personal preferences that gift cards deliver. The research process is a value exchange by both parties: the research sponsor is seeking to inform decision making and consumers like to receive an acknowledgment of the value of their participation.
We didn’t dig in deeper to understand what else may play into the preference choices here so it’s entirely possible there are nuances missing, but when we triangulate with other data this growing preference is validated by a study released in December of 2012 by CEB:
Clearly, consumers enjoy utilizing gift cards.
How does that fit with the Relationship Economy model though? Aren’t consumer preferences for gift cards an indicator of a purely transactional relationship with research? Well, not necessarily.
The recent GRIT Consumer Participation in Research study GreenBook undertook with RIWI to understand global attitudes about survey participation (being released next week) showed a surprising high number of consumers who were willing to participate in research for no incentive at all:
Now, clearly due to the nature of the RIWI micro-survey model some caution is needed here; it’s entirely possible that the high level of respondents who say they are willing to engage in surveys without any incentive could be biased by the experience of a one question survey; that will be an area that will need to be explored in future research. It’s reasonable to consider that factors like length of survey, interest in the topic, relationship with the research sponsor, and psychodemograpics play a role here.
The RIWI data was compiled from hundreds of thousands interviews across over 200 countries and was weighted to global census data, and it particularly targeted people who did not normally participate in research, so there is no reason not to take it at face value as an indicator of high level attitudes towards participation in research. That being the case, then perhaps this almost equal split on incentives vs. no incentives points to a growing group of consumers who are looking for something more than a simple transactional relationship with research and are more focused on other drivers of value exchange.
Perhaps the reconciliation here does indeed lie with the idea of the Relationship Economy again, and perhaps the way to manifest the value exchange for consumers is in giving them a choice going into the relationship.
To spell it out a bit more, I think it’s worthwhile to stop assuming we know what consumers want and to simply ask them during the beginning of the research process. Maybe our invitations should say something like this:
“We are conducting study on XXXX topic. We’re using a survey to do gather the needed information and it’s going to take you about xxxx minutes to complete it. We value your time, energy, and participation and want to build a relationship with you, so we’re giving you a few choices on how we can show our appreciation. Which would you prefer?
1. A Visa Gift Card or choice of store Gift Card worth $xxx
2. $xxx that can be applied to your Amazon Account
3. Access to the results of this research
4. Nothing but our thanks and good karma”
Obviously that is a bit simplistic, but the point here is that IF relationships are becoming more important than simple transactions and IF consumers globally prefer some type of flexible and tangible reward such as a gift card as a sign of the value exchange then we need to start tying those ideas together and developing an engagement model that really addresses both concerns.
I do think more will go into this than just the reward type. My belief is that we can learn an awful lot from social games when thinking about our relationship with consumers and in that context consumers seem driven by 3 things:
3. Social standing
We need to think of how we can combine all of these elements into the relationship with research participants in order to be relevant to them.
And that brings me to the final report that important here. The 2012 Confirmit MR software survey by Tim Macer and Sheila Wilson, meaning ltd asked market research suppliers about their incentive strategies, and the results fly in the face of what Virtual Incentives discovered about consumer preferences:
Although clearly researchers have not entirely missed the boat the reliance upon Points based systems, which clearly are used more than any other model, is not helping the perennial issues of response rates, sample quality and respondent engagement.
The overarching message for me here is that researchers need to re-examine our relationships with consumers and how we honor their participation in the experience is one area that we can immediately begin to experiment in.