Guidelines for Incentives

Guidelines for Incentives for Online/Mobile Qual Research

To Provide Incentives or Not…

The motivation for people to participate in a focus group can vary a lot. On one end of the spectrum there is monetary motivation, and at the other end the motivation is altruistic, where people are ecstatic to share their opinions. There are brand “extremists” or “activists” who are more than willing to share their joy and opinions for the benefit of shaping the future of the brand/product. For some, the motivation to participate can be very personal such as a topic or organization that they are personally attached to, and they may not need an incentive to participate. These motivational factors are present in both online and offline qualitative research.

The reality is that the majority of qualitative research projects require participants to engage and dedicate time into the research, and for most the incentive can be a significant engagement tool. Furthermore, for real time research methodologies, the show rate is critical to the success of the group, especially with client/ stakeholder observers watching the group.  An incentive will greatly increase the likelihood of participants attending the real time research group on time and providing their undivided attention. It will also help to insure that they will actively participate in the discussion through the end of the engagement.  In many cases, we will provide pro-rated incentives if participants don’t fully complete all of the study requirements.

Types of Incentives / Methods of Distribution

Incentives do not always have to be monetary in value. Business professionals may prefer a copy of the research findings, or participants in a video focus group may receive a webcam as an incentive. Physicians and other fee for service professionals are most likely to request to be compensated for their time through a cash incentive. Consumers may enjoy PayPal credits or gift codes. Knowing your audience will assist in determining the incentive.  Traditionally incentives have been fulfilled using a variety of methods including checks, gift cards and PayPal. As the market becomes more global are these traditional methods still the best way to incentivize participants? There is no one incentive method to fit all circumstances. With so many vendors offering so many ways of incentivizing, determining the most accepted, most efficient and cost effective method can be daunting.  Also, it is critical to ensure that incentive commitments are fulfilled quickly upon conclusion of the study as many participants will begin to inquire and may contact numerous people adding to administration of the project.

Cash incentives offer the greatest flexibility and sending a physical check in the mail seems to be the most popular choice amongst the organizations doing market research in North America and for the participants receiving the incentive, especially for participants that may not yet, or ever, embrace the electronic monetary world. Companies can outsource this task at a relatively small cost.

Electronic methods reduce incentive fulfillment errors and administrative costs. The key to success is for the participant to be paid quickly and easily.  It lessens the workload and reduces tension with participants due to the hiccups of snail mail and incomplete or incorrect addresses.

PayPal has the advantages of reaching beyond North America and offers endless currency options.  My experience is that for some non-North American countries, the PayPal account holder must upgrade their account parameters for receipt of funds prior to funds being deposited. PayPal offers the ease of uploading an excel file thus making a mass distribution easy.

Electronic gift cards and coupon codes can easily be sent to respondent through an automated email action immediately following the project.  However, these methods offer less flexibility about how and where funds can be sent.

Physical and virtual debit and credit cards are newer fulfillment methods and are accepted in 160+ countries and in multiple currencies.  However my limited use has found this method a little more expensive with sometimes hidden activation fees for recipients.

We need to keep respondents engaged with timely fulfillment thus making the smart choice for rewarding online research participants is an important topic to consider.

Incentive Amounts and Variable Payment Methods

The ideal amount for the incentive will vary depending on the target audience and time expected to participate, as well at the research budget.  As a general guideline, our team recommends estimating the amount of time participants will be expected to invest to complete the research activities and setting the incentive amount proportional to the time required.  For general consumers, a general guidelines would be $20-$30 per 30 minutes of research activities.  Business to business research requires higher incentive amounts.  Incentives for decision makers / influencers within businesses start at approximately $50 per 30 minutes of participation time required and can increase well above $50 depending on the background and degree of specialization necessary to participate. Professionals such as physicians are typically paid approximately $125 to $175 per 30 minutes of research activity participation.  Finding the balance between adequately incentivizing and managing your research budget will ultimately result in a great return on investment for your research findings.

For mobile projects, participants are sometimes required to go to a store, event or other location and capture their experience via a mobile device.  With higher participation expectations, an increase to the incentive is likely reasonable.

For longer term engagements and community projects conducted on our software, we have sometimes provided a base incentive, plus a reward for participants that post more frequently or are more detailed. With this model, there is some implementation procedures and rules to set up in advance so that you get the type of responses you are looking for.  We also add a leaderboard to some communities so that respondents can see how they are doing on engagement compared to others.

Another effective approach is a “spirit award” where in some studies, participants know in advance that a select few participants will receive extra recognition and rewards for engaging and frequent participation.

The administration of incentives may seem daunting given the various distribution methods and variable payment amounts.  itracks provides an incentive fulfillment service including any of the methods discussed above.


Incentives often play an important role in qualitative research studies.  The decision whether to provide incentives, the method of distribution, payment amount and structure and administration process will impact engagement of participants. Feel free to contact a recruitment specialist or project manager at itracks to discuss the ideal strategy for managing in your next qualitative research project.

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