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Should I offer an incentive to my market research participants?

One of the questions we’re asked most frequently is “Should I include incentive or reimbursement as part of a medical market research programme?” To which our answer is almost always “Yes.”  And that’s equally applicable to research programmes in which the participants are healthcare professionals and those which talk to patients. After all, the former are giving valuable insights and time from their extremely busy schedule, while the latter can sometimes be volunteering personal and occasionally sensitive information. Due to how busy these types of people are, there are often limited numbers that are willing to participant in medical market research, making them harder to recruit. Therefore, you may need to match your incentive to the difficulty level of recruiting these participants to ensure your maximum success of your healthcare research project.That’s not to say that there aren’t pros and cons to using incentives – and of course, even if you’ve decided to use them, there’s still plenty to think about. In this blog you’ll find a good overview of everything you need to consider before or during your research when it comes to incentives.

What is an incentive?

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Let’s start with the basics. Market research incentives are used to thank participants for answering your questions or donating their time and insights, whether that’s in a focus group, a one-on-one interview or an online survey. They can be monetary or non-monetary (see below) and can vary in value depending on the scale of the project, the respondents and the time participants will be required to commit.

What are the pros & cons to giving incentives?

As we wrote earlier, if they’re used correctly, we’d almost always recommend including incentives in your research strategy. Not only do they increase involvement and participation rates, research shows that despite some reports to the contrary, they don’t affect response quality. The downsides? Well, they can eat into your overall costs if you don’t have a huge budget – and you can run the risk of accusations of bribery if you don’t follow the appropriate guidelines (see below.)

What incentives can I offer?

You can offer incentives in several different forms:

  • Cash
  • Cheque
  • BACS
  • Shopping vouchers
  • Charitable donations (This can particularly appeal to patients if the charity in question is related to their condition.)
  • Gift cards

Healthcare market research

Sometimes the opportunity to take part in the research can be enough of an incentive in itself. If they’re interested in or have a connection to the subject, a project that allows participants to look’behind the scenes’ or that gives them the opportunity to influence the future of a product, a service or a company could be hugely appealing. With that in mind, if including the name of the client or product sponsoring the research is unlikely to bias or skew the results, it’s worth including that kind of relevant detail.

Tips on how to offer your incentive

In addition to referring to the BHBIA guidelines, the rule of thumb for any research where you’re offering an incentive is to state clearly what the incentive is, how it will be paid and when the participants will receive it, right from the very start.

That means thinking about several key contributing factors, including:

  • Will you be asking the participants to carry out any kind of pre-task prior to the main stage research? If you are, estimate how long this will take and bear that in mind when you’re calculating the amount you’ll be offering.
  • Think about whether your chosen incentive will appeal to your particular audience. Will they deem it valuable? And if you’re running an online survey – what would be the most appropriate method of incentive?
  • At what point will you offer your incentive? After the research? Or if you’re asking participants to complete a pre-task, is it worth offering them half then and half once they have participated in the main phase to encourage full completion
  • If the research is taking place at a specific venue, do you need to factor in an additional amount to cover travel expenses? Where possible, we would recommend this as it will make it as easy as possible for participants to attend. If they have to pay to attend the research, this may put them off.

Above all, try and engage with your participants as much as possible before the research to build up a relationship with them. Not only will this help the research itself go smoothly, it will help break down any barriers to incentives.

Are there any ethical considerations I should be aware of?

While there aren’t any MR industry guidelines for what constitutes an appropriate level of incentive, it is suggested that they shouldn’t be any higher than the fair market value.

Should your incentive be any higher than that, it runs the risk of being seen as a bribe – or could potentially influence participants’ behaviour or responses. Nor should you offer incentives made up of the sponsoring client’s products.

In addition, respondents shouldn’t be required to spend any money – and as outlined above, make sure you’re always clear about what the incentive will be, who will administer it and when the participants will receive it.

Finally, the participants’ anonymity must be preserved throughout the research.

Have you considered the availability of your research participants? Read our blog to find out more.