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Using Survey Incentives to Supercharge, Not Skew, Your Responses

Guest Post by Josh Pigford of PopSurvey.

When you’re marketing a new product, improving a service or just trying to figure out what the next step is for your business, it’s generally a bad idea to just shoot in the dark and wait and see what happens. You can mitigate a lot of risk with your business by running periodic surveys targeted towards current as well as potential customers.

But let’s assume you’re already sold on doing surveys. Maybe you’ve actually already run a few. As many marketers experience, you may have had some trouble getting answers to your survey.

This is when you should start thinking about incentivizing: giving in order to get.  Maybe it’s a gift certificate, an entry into a cash-prize drawing, or even gifts like t-shirts and keychains. Whatever your survey incentives, boosting the number of replies is the goal.

The problem, however, is that incentives can complicate your response rates and lead to an unclear understanding. How much interest is there in your product or workplace initiative, versus interest in the incentive itself?

What you need is a plan: a strategy that lets you map out where you want your incentive to take your survey, without too many distractions along the way. Here are some tips from experts on how to do just that:

1. Hold off in the beginning. It’s better to be disappointed than to be fooled. That’s the message at Vovici, where blogger Jeffrey Hanning recommends that survey initiatives not start with incentives. The point is, figure out your baseline response rate without introducing numbers-boosting tools. Even if the survey is a failure at first, you’ll have initial numbers against which to measure your future incentive-driven success.

2. Consider the trends. Once you decide to create an incentive program to drive your survey, pay attention to what survey-givers before you have found to work. A study released in 2011 shows that while merchandise or store-specific gift cards have been the typical incentive in recent years, almost 40 percent of survey administrators now consider prepaid MasterCard or Visa cards to be more effective.

Every initiative is unique in terms of its respondent demographic and its budget, but keep the implications of this study in mind: less restrictive incentives may equal greater returns on your investment. For further evidence, check out this study of students’ responses to surveys based on iTunes gift-card incentives versus gift cards to

3. Beware of the Skewing Effect. In the same vein as the previous tip, survey incentives can impact more than just your response rates — they have the potential to skew your survey results toward one kind of respondent or another. For example, a gift card to a high-end clothing store might attract more people from one kind of income bracket or community type than a gift card to a family-style restaurant. When you consider your employee or customer base, aim to incentivize without excluding significant segments of your wanted respondents.

Remember that not all surveys need to conform to the merchandise/gift-card model, either. For example, if you know that your survey-takers are all professionals in your industry, one incentive might be to share with them the survey data itself. Or, if they’re likely to be customers of your products in the first place, turn your survey into a conversion by offering a discount code for your merchandise.

In these cases, you’re less concerned with the incentive skewing the data because your respondent-types fall within known, finite parameters. The bottom line is that the timing and type of lure should clarify the respondent’s desire to complete your questionnaire, not obscure what kinds of people are actually interested in your questions.

Josh Pigford is the co-founder + CEO of a little survey company called PopSurvey, where he works hard to make the survey industry less boring. Check out their survey templates and get started finding out what your customers really think about you!  Follow them @PopSurvey.

Image: kathryn_rotondo

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