How To Increase Survey Response Rates Through Incentives

So you are planning to conduct a survey, the one you need to gain valuable market data and insight into your customers. You’ve structured it so it’s easy to complete, crafted the subject line to increase the email’s open rate, tested your copy out to anyone who would read it…but you are still unsure if anyone will respond.

Consumers are solicited every day to participate in surveys so how do you ensure that you set yourself apart from your competitors? Try adding an incentive.

What kind of incentive should you give?

Research has shown that cash is your best option, however cash is difficult to distribute. Coupons and gift cards are an easier alternative.

Evidently, your incentive is going to be determined and limited by your budget but you should also keep your survey demographic in mind when thinking about what kind of incentive to use in order to appeal to the largest amount of respondents possible. Universities often offer gift cards for their textbook stores because that appeals to students on a budget. However, try not to be too specific, which might not appeal to a wide enough audience (e.g. a coupon for garden hoses isn't going to appeal to everyone. Unless you happen to be surveying gardeners!)

As well, testing out different incentives can help you find out what works best for your target population and for the least cost. If cost is an issue, consider non-monetary incentives such as accumulated branded swag(t-shirts, pens, notebooks, etc...). Using the style of "Complete the survey for a chance to win one of X items" also works to allow fewer higher value incentives instead of "every entrant who completes a survey will receive...” style incentives.

When should you use an incentive?

If you're targeting a demographic that is either difficult to reach or small in size, consider using an incentive to make sure you increase the likelihood of getting the responses you need for a representative sample.

But you should keep in mind how offering an incentive may affect your responses. Often they can attract "straightlining"(respondents rushing through to completion and clicking the same response for all the questions) and low quality or fake responses, which will harm the integrity and quality of your data. However if you offer too low of an incentive or not at all, you may be giving the impression to your respondents that you don't value their time and they may choose not to respond.

Think about your demographic, how they value their time, and how much effort is required for your survey.

Consider if, given the nature of the survey, your respondent will do it out of internal motivation rather than an external monetary one. A survey on environmental practices or views in households may not require an incentive since there's already a perceived social value.

Generally, including an incentive to a survey is a great way to encourage more respondents. By offering an incentive, respondents feel valued for their time and also more obligated to complete a survey. This is known as the “norm of reciprocity”. By offering a reward of some kind, respondents feel more obligated to give thoughtful answers to your questions and thus improving the data quality of your findings.

What else is there to consider?

How you structure your survey is important to its success so think about how you will present your incentive for the survey. Time how long it takes to do your survey so you can indicate the length to your respondent, that way they know whether they can commit to finishing it instead of giving you half-hearted responses. Provide all the details on how the incentive will be given, to whom, when, etc. up front along with the suggested time it will take to complete.

And make sure to take care with how you collect your data and personal information required to provide the incentive; if the data needs to be anonymous, separate the two. Bottom line, if you need to increase your survey response rate, an incentive of some kind will help, but keep your audience in mind in deciding how you incorporate it, which will ultimately decide how successful your survey is.

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