How to calculate the right incentive for your research participants

Jack Wolstenholm
March 26, 2024
How to calculate the right incentive for your research participants

Incentives can make or break research.

When determining how to incentivize participants, the stakes are high — offer too much, and you risk unnecessarily inflating your research budget. Offer too little, and you risk echoing into the void with no qualified participants or research insights to show for your efforts.

A well-chosen incentive can act as a magnet for the exact type of research participants you're looking for. To strike the right balance, you need to understand what motivates your target audience, drives their interest, and keeps them engaged.

This Research Incentives Calculator created by our friends at Respondent is a great way to get started:

From there, Great Question makes it easy to recruit from Respondent's panel of over 3 million verified research participants, conduct your study, and pay out incentives anywhere in the world. Create a Great Question account here to give it a try.

Want to dig deeper on incentives? Below, we break down all of the factors you should consider when making your decision.

Differences between incentivizing customers & non-customers

When conducting research, it's important to understand the different requirements between incentivizing customers versus non-customers. This will allow you to uncover customer insights in a way that is not only impactful to your team, but also cost-effective and repeatable.

Incentivizing customers

Customers, already familiar with your brand, product, or service, bring a wealth of experience and preconceived notions to your research. They can provide in-depth feedback based on actual usage, which is essential for iterative improvements and understanding user satisfaction. However, their existing relationship with your brand can also introduce bias, as past experiences (good or bad) may color their responses.

When incentivizing customers, it's essential to acknowledge their ongoing relationship with your brand. Incentives should reflect appreciation for their time and reinforce their value to your brand’s community. Exclusive offers, discounts on future purchases, or access to beta features can serve as compelling incentives, providing immediate value and fostering long-term engagement.

Incentivizing non-customers

On the other hand, non-customers offer a fresh perspective uncolored by direct experience with your products or services. They can help identify barriers to entry, perceptions of your brand in the marketplace, and opportunities to attract new segments. However, attracting non-customers for UX research often requires a different incentive strategy, as there's no existing loyalty or relationship to leverage. (This is where Great Question's integration with Respondent comes into play. More on that soon.)

For non-customers, incentives need to be universally appealing and perceived as immediately valuable. Cash equivalents, gift cards, or vouchers for popular services can be effective, as they offer flexibility and are widely appreciated. The key is ensuring the incentive is attractive enough to engage individuals who might not have an inherent interest in your brand while avoiding any perception of undue influence on their feedback.

When to use one vs. the other

Let’s discuss when to engage each segment to enhance the effectiveness of your research efforts:

When to incentivize customers

Incentivizing customers is most beneficial when your goal is to deepen the understanding of your existing user base, improve customer satisfaction, or refine current products and services. This approach is ideal for:

Product improvement & iteration

Customers are your go-to source if your goal is to refine existing products or services. Their direct experience with your offerings means they can provide detailed feedback on usability, functionality, and satisfaction.

Evaluating user experience

Customers can provide detailed feedback on their interactions with your product or service, helping identify pain points and areas for improvement.

Loyalty & retention studies

Your current user base is invaluable when exploring factors that influence customer loyalty and retention. They can offer insights into what keeps them engaged with your brand and what might drive them away.

Beta testing

Before a wide release, beta testing with existing customers who are likely to be early adopters can provide critical feedback on new features or products. Their familiarity with your brand positions them well to assess how new offerings stack up against expectations and existing experiences.

When to incentivize non-customers for research

Non-customers offer insights that can help you understand the broader market, identify untapped opportunities, and evaluate brand perception among those outside your current customer base. Consider incentivizing non-customers when:

Exploring market expansion

If you're considering entering new markets or targeting new customer segments, non-customer feedback can reveal your offering's appeal and barriers to adoption.

Assessing brand perception

Non-customers can provide an unbiased view of your brand's position in the market, including strengths and weaknesses compared to competitors.

Validating product concepts

For new products or services, gauging interest and potential uptake among non-customers can inform go-to-market strategies and product development decisions.

Usability testing for new products

For completely new products, non-customer feedback can be invaluable in ensuring the product meets the needs and expectations of a broader audience. This can be particularly crucial for products designed to attract a new user base or serve a market where your brand is not yet well established.

Advantages & limitations of incentivizing customers vs. non-customers

Understanding the advantages and limitations of incentivizing customers versus non-customers in UX research is crucial for designing effective studies that yield actionable insights. Here’s a detailed look at each approach's benefits and potential drawbacks to help you make informed decisions about your research strategy.

Advantages of incentivizing customers

  • Depth of feedback: Customers have firsthand experience with your product or service. This experience allows them to provide detailed, context-rich feedback that can be invaluable for iterative improvements.
  • Loyalty and engagement: Involving customers in the research process can increase their loyalty and engagement with your brand, as they feel their opinions are valued and can influence product development.
  • Higher response rates: Customers, already invested in your brand, may be more likely to participate in research, leading to higher response rates and more robust data.
  • Specific feedback: Since customers are familiar with your offering, they can offer specific, actionable feedback that can be directly applied to make improvements.

Limitations of incentivizing customers

  • Bias: Customers may have preconceived notions or biases based on their experiences. The bias can influence their feedback and may not always reflect the broader market perspective.
  • Innovation blind spots: Relying solely on existing customers can create blind spots around innovative ideas or features that might appeal to a wider audience but are not immediately evident to current users.

Advantages of incentivizing non-customers

  • Fresh perspectives: Non-customers can offer unbiased feedback and fresh perspectives. They can help you identify untapped market opportunities and barriers to entry that might not be visible to current customers.
  • Market expansion insights: They can provide valuable insights into why they haven't chosen your product or service, highlighting areas for improvement or adjustment to appeal to a broader audience.
  • Brand perception: Feedback from non-customers can help you understand how your brand is perceived in the broader market, including strengths and weaknesses compared to competitors.

Limitations of incentivizing non-customers

  • Lack of product familiarity: Without direct experience with your product or service, non-customers may not provide as detailed or context-specific feedback as current customers. The shallow feedback can affect the depth of insights.
  • Recruitment challenges: Attracting non-customers for research can be more challenging and costly, as there is no existing relationship or immediate interest in your brand to leverage.
  • Higher incentive costs: To attract non-customers, a higher incentive is often required to compensate for their lack of inherent interest in or engagement with your brand.

Factors that influence incentive amounts

Below, we explore key considerations that can guide you in setting appropriate incentive amounts.

B2B vs. B2C

B2B research often involves industry professionals whose time is at a premium. Incentivizing these participants often requires higher amounts due to their specialized knowledge and the high value of their time. Professionals, especially in niche industries, can offer critical and specific insights which their participation both more valuable and more expensive.

On the other hand, B2C incentives can generally be lower than B2B, as the audience often participates in less specialized research. However, the incentive should still be appealing enough to encourage participation from your target consumer demographic, reflecting the effort they need to put in.

Research method

The nature of the research — whether it's a user interview, focus group, survey, or usability test — also dictates the incentive amount. In-depth UX research methods like user interviews and focus groups demand more time and engagement from participants, justifying higher incentives.

Surveys and short usability tests, requiring less time and effort, often warrant lower incentive amounts. The complexity and cognitive load of the research task directly influence the perceived value of the incentive needed to attract and retain participants.

Time required

It's essential to respect participants' time by offering incentives that reflect the duration and intensity of their involvement. Longer sessions demand more from participants, not just in terms of time but also in terms of the potential fatigue and opportunity costs they incur. Consequently, studies requiring more time offer higher incentives to adequately compensate participants for their extended commitment and to reflect the value of the insights they provide throughout the research.


In areas with a higher cost of living, participants may expect higher incentives to participate in research activities. This factor ensures that incentives are competitive and fair, appealing to participants in different regions and making research opportunities accessible to a diverse demographic.

Job function

The participant's job function influences incentive amounts, especially in B2B research. Experts or high-level executives whose insights are highly valued and whose time is particularly costly often receive higher incentives. The specificity of expertise required for the research can necessitate adjusting incentives to attract the right caliber of professionals, ensuring the research benefits from high-quality, informed contributions.

Experience level

More experienced professionals or those with senior job titles may require higher incentives due to the value of their insights and the opportunity cost of their time. Conversely, less experienced participants might be motivated by lower incentives.

Start recruiting participants & managing incentives with Great Question

After determining the best incentive for your ideal participants, create a Great Question account and start recruiting from Respondent's panel of 3M+ high-quality candidates.

With our Respondent integration, finding the right audience for your studies is simplified into three straightforward steps: define your recruitment criteria, employ screener questions to ensure precision in participant selection, and proceed to review and invite the ideal candidates for your study.

Great Question allows you to choose from various incentive options, like gift cards, charitable donations, or debit cards, available for distribution in over 80 countries. You can customize rewards according to your study's needs and participant preferences, ensuring a rewarding experience for both parties. Great Question also provides detailed insights into your incentive spending, helping you manage budgets effectively across individual studies or entire research programs.

Try Great Question today.

Jack is the Content Marketing Lead at Great Question, the end-to-end UX research platform for customer-centric teams. Previously, he led content marketing and strategy as the first hire at two insurtech startups, Breeze and LeverageRx. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

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