A gentle push over the brink

Article 1

Our goal as Panel Managers at Norstat is to build relationships with our panelists that go beyond merely sending survey invitations and paying out bonus points. We want to earn the trust of our panel members and listen to their concerns, as this is a precondition for getting open and sincere answers in surveys. And one thing’s for sure: everything we do as Panel Managers might have an impact on the panelists’ future willingness to participate in surveys and on their response quality.

This is why we pay special attention to how satisfied our panel members are. One way to assess the general opinion about our panel is our regular panelist satisfaction survey. Today, I’d like to focus on an interesting result of our latest survey to the question why people subscribed to our community.

As you might expect, a large proportion of the panelists wants to collect points and participate in price draws, – and there is nothing wrong with it. We (and anyone else in the industry) use incentives to make taking surveys a bit more attractive, especially for the harder to reach target groups. Hence, incentives are not only a token of gratitude for the respondent, but primarily a method of being able to equally represent all sociodemographic groups in the panel.

In addition, you should bear in mind that a panel will hardly meet the excessive expectations of so-called “incentive hunters”. This is not only a matter of keeping our costs low, but also because we don’t want to use monetary incentives as the main motivator to join our panel or to participate in a survey. Instead, we see incentives as a small boost for an already existing intrinsic motivation, a gentle push over the brink. If you have no self-interest at all to thoroughly fill in an online questionnaire, your answers will hardly help to make informed decision.

It is against this background, that we reduce the communication of incentives to a minimum and try to emphasize motivators like fun, entertainment, diversion or curiosity instead. And indeed, a large proportion of our panelists state that they subscribed to the community, because they had an interest in market research, that they were curious or wanted to share their opinion. We see that many panel members have a self-interest in taking surveys and that they don’t necessarily need a compensation for it. (If you read the numbers conversely: for 45% of our panelists, earning money was not a reason for joining the panel – even though they were directly asked about it!).

So, what’s my point here? If such a large proportion of people has different motives than earning money, we should make sure that our research will meet their expectations and doesn’t appear useless to them. This means our questionnaires must be relevant, informative and maybe even entertaining for the respondents – but also, that their voice is heard and that results have an impact. Because, if we regard incentives as the only remedy against declining response rates, we’d only see our prejudices of incentive-hunting panelists confirmed by attracting more of them, while repelling those who’d like to contribute in a more substantial way. So, let’s focus on the right things!