Pretty much everyone in the survey business understands the value of a satisfied panel. We want our surveys to be well-received and satisfying. We want our panelists to be engaged, and when we invite them again, we want them to participate eagerly.
To achieve these goals, you must work to build loyalty among your panelists. What does loyalty mean in this context? A panelist should think of your panel as their panel. They belong there, and it’s a place they will want to revisit.
One tried and true method for building loyalty is the offering of incentives, also known as rewards. An incentive reinforces positive behaviors and reminds panelists who your brand is and why it’s something worthy of their loyalty.
A panelist who is kept happy will in large measure be a loyal one. Here again, incentives can play a major role in building good will. When you reward respondents, you not only offer them something of value, you are letting them know that you value them.
In the abstract, an incentive program should contribute to the growth of
- Participation frequency
- Retention of participants
When we reward panelists for good behavior, the happy (thus loyal) panelists are much more likely to share their positive experience with their friends. In this way retention (satisfied panelists) can feedback into acquisition (new participants).
Let’s briefly examine how incentives can be structured to address these aims.
A reward that isn’t worthwhile to the participant isn’t worth much.
The value of the reward should be paired with two factors: time invested by the participant and the level of complexity of the tasks you ask them to complete.
Beware of offering too lavish a reward.
This can trigger fraudulent actions, as in “I’ll say or do anything to get the prize.” An incentive program should NEVER compromise the integrity of the research.
Watch out for the redundancy problem.
Offering the same reward again and again can have a negative impact: participant boredom leading to lack of engagement.
Weigh the benefits of adding diverse incentives.
Are their ways to cater or customize the panel experience? Is your panel management system able to accommodate changes to the incentive package over time, as needs change?
You might, for instance, design a tiered system for qualifying and non-qualifying participants. Why should non-qualifiers be rewarded with a token gift too? Because today’s non-qualifier could be tomorrow’s qualifying participant. Retention is the name of the game. With typical conversion rates tending towards the low range of 10% to 15%, when you reward the non-qualifier, you help to avoid gaming of the system and incentivize honest repeat participation in the next survey.
A good incentive program will have some flexibility built-in, such as tiered rewards that trigger at different levels depending on specified factors. The levels could consist of gift cards, merchandise, PayPal payments, charitable donations, games, and other exclusive benefits. The key is to match the reward with the panelist. One size does not fit all.
Consider delivering digital rewards by email.
Digital rewards have a couple of advantages: (1) the recipient gets immediate satisfaction (they can redeem it right away) and (2) you reduce overhead for inventory and fulfillment management.
Weigh the costs and benefits.
Tiered rewards can add cost but they really help to cement the bond to your most loyal panelists. Points-based rewards are a popular approach that can be cheaper than cash rewards.
Give them a choice.
Using the idea of “Reverse Preference”, you offer the panelist a choice of reward type other than the default option, and you might use this as a motivational factor for a targeting a particular demographic.
Can your technology handle what you need to do?
You want the system to accommodate multiple projects and programs across different demographics at the same time, each with its own custom incentive approach. An integrated application programming interface (API) can automatically deliver rewards. Fast incentive fulfillment not only increases efficiencies, it keeps panelists happier. Make sure your panel management system is robust enough to handle the granularity of analytics you need, and is adaptable enough when needs mutate.
Measuring the Results.
The key to improving an incentive program is to test and adjust.
You should always be tracking and measuring respondent satisfaction, which can be gauged via satisfaction surveys, social media feedback, and helpdesk availability.
Doing this will show panelists that you are there for them, are interested in their feedback, and are willing to act to improve their experience with each iteration.
Measurement is necessary for another reason. To gain approval for an incentive program, you will need to demonstrate to management that you have the metrics to show a clear return on investment. Plan to show them the positive feedback loops between completion rates and satisfaction metrics.
With these considerations in mind, you can expect an improved rewards system that boosts acquisition rates, leads to greater participation, and secures higher retention rates.