by | Feb 4, 2019 | Good To Know | 2 comments

Incentives in market research… now that they’re here is there ever going to be a time that we can avoid using them?
RFG’s co-founders Baillie Buchanan and Sean Case explore incentives, how we can minimize fraudulent behaviour, and the future of online studies.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Watch their discussion below, and if you have any thoughts – Say Hi! 

[00:02] Baillie Buchanan: Hi I’m Baillie Buchanan joined by Sean Case and we are two of the co-founders of Research For Good and we wanted to chat quickly about incentives in market research, and this conversation is prompted by two things. There was recently a discussion that got pretty heated on Linkedin where a Quora snippet was shared where a market research participant was touting the fact that they were able to participate in lots of surveys under lots of different personas in order to make money and basically called themselves out as a big liar in order to earn cash, and secondly we’ve also undertaken some research on research to understand from the respondents perspective the incentive models that they find most engaging and most… to drive their desire to continue participating in market research, because we know that response rates are going down and it’s harder and harder to reach the volumes of people and the broad cross section of the population that we need to in order to fulfill all of the quant surveys that are happening. So today we wanted to just chat a little bit about incentives and so the question posed is “what role do incentives play in the quality of online quantitative surveys?” Good, bad and both.

[01:43] Sean Case: And that is a loaded question! As you know it’s one of my favourite topics, right because when were training new hires we always talk about this dramatic shift that happened in market research when we went online and we started giving incentives, right? Primarily quant research historically whether it was door to door or face to face or telephone was very rare that a respondent was actually given an incentive to participate. They might have been coerced to participate, they might have been talked to nicely to participate but there was never really a financial reward. And with the advent of online panels, online sampling that changed. So I think in general the minute as an industry we decided that it was OK to give people an incentive to participate in market research we inspired two things. One is, we inspired people… some people, not nice people to only participate for the reward, without regard for the research that’s being done. Then we also created a motivation for people to defraud us. And that’s… It shouldn’t be surprising it’s certainly is in retrospect a little I think we were pretty naive and innocent in 1998 when we started doing this. So I think specifically there’s an issue around what type of incentive is going to get you either poor quality or good quality, and what we’ve seen is cash incentives in general are the culprit when it comes to people wanting to defraud you or not give good results because cash is universal, everybody wants it and they can use it right away. It’s meaningful, and there’s a lot of people that have lots of time and not a lot of money and they’re willing to go lots of creative things in order to earn money that they don’t deserve. I think along those lines there are also over the past 5 years we’ve seen emerging a new set of rewards that aren’t cash based that don’t really inspire fraud and poor behaviour. Those are things like unlocking locked content, or getting rewarded in a game with points that you can use to play in the game. Things like that where you’re doing something socially or for fun and earning the reward enhances that experience. You know, what we’ve found is that tends to not inspire a whole lot of fraud, or poor quality issues, because people… who wants to collect ten thousand lives in a game right, no one is going to do that or unlock five thousand articles on the New York Times. There’s no point in doing that. So it’s more getting incentives in real time for something that someone is interested in. So, that was really a long way for me saying that incentives in general inspire, can inspire, fraud or poor quality and especially I think cash based incentives are something that need to be considered very very carefully before being used, or at least there needs to be safe guards around it if you’re going to use cash vs some of the other types of incentives that are merging.

[05:29] Baillie Buchanan: Yeah, and I think that’s a good point. I think there’s no going back that I can see in offering incentives for people to participate. There’s not a real clear path to moving away from that so incentive is always going to be part of the give and take of market research. I think what we need to be careful of is how that’s being presented in what form that takes because like you were saying, if you can… people want something that is immediately relevant and that they see as a fair compensation for their time, opinion or data. I think that two of those combined, the first thing we all think of is money but when you look closely at the drivers of behaviour if you’re able to format that in a way that they’re getting something that’s immediately relevant, usable but doesn’t have the added element of engaging people who are a little bit more nefarious or you know, willing to do things outside of the moral compass to get more of that reward, like points or access to premium content and to whatever it may be, you’re hitting those points of what they find really engaging, without opening the door to as much fraud. There will never be no fraud, or no bad answers but I think we can drastically reduce that.

[07:01] Sean Case: Yeah, and some of these aren’t necessarily new ideas. If you look way back to e-rewards in the heyday of e-rewards business, they were able to get really high quality respondents who were taking surveys for miles, or credit for their rental car company right? These are people that are probably high earners, they travel a lot, but for some reason they really wanted to earn miles and it’s the same in today’s world right? You look at… I want to read articles on different news websites but I don’t want to subscribe to all of them. So I’m willing to take an action to unlock a specific piece of content because it’s relevant to my experience online at this minute, and it’s the same with online games, apps and all these things. Those kinds of experiences drive a very different mindset and behaviour than just taking actions for cash, which is kind of almost circular event right? The more cash I earn and taking actions and doing surveys the more I want to do it ‘cause I see different ways to make money and there’s lots of websites that promote “earn a living taking surveys”, and that’s kind of the opposite of what we really want to be accomplishing in this industry.

[08:21]Baillie Buchanan: Yeah, and at the same time, those programmes like a miles or rental car, like you were saying, those work because there’s a low barrier to entry. The person is already participating in that programme, so they’re not having to join something new and get rewards in a different place, and I think that’s also a key factor given the declining participation rates and the, we need to make taking a survey as a one off or again and again over time a low barrier of entry for people so that it’s seen as kind of part of what they’re doing in how they’re choosing to spend their time this is an add-on that has value to them and isn’t something they have to look too hard in order to find.

[09:15]Sean Case: That is exactly right, and I think you raised an interesting question or point earlier that I think is worth coming back to, which is you know we can’t go back. We can’t go back and get people to participate in online research or data collection without an incentive and I would say maybe there’s hope that we could get back to that? I think where that hope comes from for me at least is that I believe at some point we could make the process of collecting data from people, whether it’s surveys or whatever else, as interesting as what we’re competing with right now. So right now we’re competing with Instagram and cat videos and you know, all these other far more pleasurable experiences and we try to maybe tie some incentives into those things, but if we could actually make this research process as enjoyable as those other experiences we might be able to get to a world where we don’t need to be giving cash or like incentives to respondents because the experience is actually fun again. We talk about that when we train new people right, back in 1998 into 2001 taking an online survey was a novelty right? So people participated because they had never done one. Now people, now you can’t even go to a website without getting bombarded to give feedback on an online survey, and it’s so…. It’s almost got such a negative connotation that we really need to… hope for new experiences to evolve so we can get away from the incentivised world and therefore the fraud world, or the quality problems.

[11:02] Baillie Buchanan: Yeah, absolutely. So we’ll end the conversation there I think there’s some interesting points, and it’ll be very interesting to see kind of, where we evolve to as an industry. There’s a lot of discussion around this topic currently so watch this space. If anybody watching has other thoughts or additional commentary on the topic we’d love to hear from you, or if you have other topics and would love to, or would like to participate in the conversation we would love to have additional voices in the discussion around this or other topics in the MRX space! So, let us know you can reach us at Say Hi at Thanks everyone for watching!

[11:52] Sean Case: Thank you. Have a great day, night, morning!

During the discussion, Baillie Buchanan mentioned that at RFG we had undertaken some research on research. To view the findings, visit our blog here! 

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