Guest Post: The ALS Challenge And The Value Exchange

What’s the easiest way to introduce a relationship-based value exchange into your research process? How about inside your survey incentives program?



Editor’s note: Mark Hughes is the Manager, Global Payment Solutions at hyperWALLET Systems Inc., a leading global payments provider.

By Mark Hughes

By now, not only have you heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, chances are you’ve participated in the fundraiser, either as a watery victim or a trusted videographer. A viral fundraising sensation that’s dominated social media for the past few weeks, the Ice Bucket Challenge had raised more than $42 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as of August 21st.

Here’s how it works: videotape yourself pouring a bucket of ice cold water on yourself. Then, challenge your friends to do it. They have 24-hours to either publish video evidence of their ice bucket experience, or else make a donation (usually $100) to the ALS Association. Amazingly, most participants will do both – donating even after they’ve enjoyed an icy shower.

Designed to raise awareness for this rare and debilitating neurodegernative disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t your average fundraiser. Sure, it asks for money. But it does so in a way that’s undeniably human. Simply put, the Ice Bucket Challenge makes fundraising… fun.

Unlike traditional fundraising campaigns that shine a light on the recipients of the donations, the Ice Bucket Challenge is as much about those who give donations as those who receive them. As Shahrukh Khan of the Harvard International Review stated, it’s the “participatory nature of the Challenge” that has helped “increase the willingness of people to look into what ALS is and thus spread the message. The Challenge is based on an engagement model that’s hinged on a value exchange. Simply put, if you want to add to the wave of watery awesomeness and join the likes of David Beckham, Pamela Anderson, Bill Gates and Jimmy Fallon in the exclusive Challenge social circle, you’ll need to first open your mind and your wallet for the ALS cause.

So what does this have to do with market research and incentive systems? Well, how about everything?

If the Challenge has taught modern fundraisers anything, it is that building a relationship between those who give the donations and those who receive it is critical; a connection must be forged in such a way that everyone wins. It’s thus feasible to suggest that a similar engagement model, one that’s based on forging a relationship between researchers and their survey participants, could help enhance the data collection process and improve panel retention rates going forward. And what better way to do this than to offer and incentives system that encourages interaction, boosts brand engagements and delivers the freedom of choice?

Tapping into the Relationship Economy with Your Incentives System

Unlike previous economic and industrial shifts, which have focused on quantitative improvements (optimizing production methods, reducing costs and improving quality), the relationship economy has flipped the fundamentals of consumerism on their head. Now, instead of pursuing profits in order to reap social rewards, organizations need to pursue social benefits in order to drive profits. For market research, the approach is slightly different: rather than pay participants for their time and information, researchers need to empower respondents if they wish to establish trust and inspire participation.

So, what’s the easiest way to introduce a relationship-based value exchange into your research process? How about inside your survey incentives program? According to research from Eleanor Singer of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, incentives increase response rates to surveys in all modes, including the web, panels and cross-sectional studies. Additional research by Singer has also shown that respondents prefer to receive this incentive in the form of cold, hard cash.

Even with this information, market research firms will normally opt for an incentive that suits their budgets and administrative limitations rather than offering compensation that fairly addresses a value exchange. This is because, in most cases, issuing a cash incentive as part of the research process requires significant effort such as printing and distributing paper checks – a costly and cumbersome undertaking, particularly for smaller value payments and global incentive programs.

So, instead of participating in a balanced exchange, market research companies have sacrificed true value for convenience, utilizing cheaper, easier to implement payment methods. Common alternatives have included restrictive closed-loop gift cards, vouchers, coupons and contest giveaways.

Fortunately, new, advanced incentive fulfillment systems (like ours here at hyperWALLET) are making it easier and more affordable for researchers to issue cash incentives and live up to their end of the relationship economy. This includes prepaid and virtual cash cards, as well as the ability to issue real-time payments onto already existing debit/credit cards. Now market research companies can issue incentives quickly, efficiently and without any unnecessary administrative overhead or operational hassle.
Just as the ALS Challenge has made the donor the focus of the fundraising process, a renewed approach to your incentives program can clearly recognize the immense value brought forth by respondents and participants.

When it comes to incentives fulfillment, researchers need to re-examine their relationships with participants so as to better compensate respondents for their role in the data collection process. While it might not be as chilly as dumping a bucket of freezing cold water on your head, I’m willing to bet the results will be just as refreshing for your market research organization!

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