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What type of survey incentives work best?

Along with “What’s the ideal sample size?” (covered in our March newsletter), two common questions we get asked are: “Do we need to offer an incentive for this survey/workshop?”; and/or “What  sort of incentive works best?”

These questions are particularly important to Councils, given the probity and (perceived) wastefulness issues that can arise.

In an ideal world, people would be happy to assist with market and social research out of the goodness of their hearts. And in the past, maybe that was true to some extent. But a combination of busy lifestyle, survey overload and a more WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) attitude means that we increasingly have to offer a tangible reward to thank people  for their time and feedback. Meanwhile, Market Research Society guidelines require compensation for any commitment exceeding 15 minutes.

“A combination of busy lifestyle, survey overload and…more ‘WIIFM’ attitude means we increasingly have to offer a tangible reward to thank people for their time and feedback.”

The two most important things with an incentive are: (a) that it has a material impact on response; while (b) not skewing response to those doing it just for the prize or reward. (This is particularly the case in “opt-in” mail-back or online surveys.)

In terms of what constitutes the “perfect” incentive, there is still plenty of debate within the research industry between a small number of big prizes  (“Win one of two iPads!”), and a lot of small prizes (“Win one of twenty $50 gift cards!”). Where it’s allowed, and logistically possible, giving everyone who participates in a long-ish survey a $2 or $3 scratchie is arguably the most effective incentive of all.

Meanwhile, it’s getting ever more difficult to recruit participants for government workshops without an incentive – and no, coffee and a sandwich doesn’t count. The exception is for topics that are of huge local interest –  remembering though that (randomly recruited) residents will invariably be way less fascinated by these issues than you are.

We have many years of experience in knowing what incentives work and which ones don’t. It’s a fascinating subject (probably more fitting to a PhD than a short article like this) , and we’re happy to brainstorm ideas with clients at any time.

Graph of the month: A snapshot of household debt

I came across this RBA graph the other day. The left hand side shows gross household debt in Australia (1991-2012) and the right hand side the corresponding change in interest payments (as a proportion of household income) over the same time.

Household Debt and Interest PaymentsI love graphs with multiple messages. And this one tells me a whole bunch of things. Firstly, it’s interesting that the proportion of debt to household income has tripled since 1991. Next, it highlights the (hardly surprising) fact that much of this increase is due to rising property prices.

But what I find most fascinating is that while household debt has tripled over the past 20 or so years, interest payments over the same period have increased only from 9 to 11 per cent. Happy days!

The good news is that this is almost certainly due to rising incomes and falling interest rates. The bad news is that it means households are incredibly sensitive to any interest rate rises. So while the 17 per cent mortgages of 1989 are hopefully a thing of the past, things could get a little rocky when rates invariably start heading north again from current “emergency” levels.

Do hurricane names really affect their death tolls?

In the “statistics can prove the darndest things” category comes the recent finding that severe hurricanes with female names kill significantly more people than those with male names. Bizarre but true!

Since 1979, the names of US hurricanes have alternated between male and female. A recent University of Illinios study of Atlantic hurricanes since then found that “for strong hurricanes, the more feminine the name, the more people it killed”.

While this seems absurd, the theory is that people are more likely to take precautions for hurricanes with a strong male name.

So would Katrina have caused less than its 1800 fatalities if it had been named Hurricane Chuck? Or is the whole thing just a huge co-incidence? You decide.

For more information, see the Washington Post article – and a host of entertaining blogs – here:


This month’s quote

“There are only two secrets to happiness. One is looking forward to going to work in the morning. And the other is looking forward to going home at night.”


Until next time…
If you have any questions, comments or other feedback about the issues raised in this newsletter, please email or call me. Otherwise, thanks so much for taking the time to read this.