The Future of Marketing Research: Spreading the Love

As purchasing power increasingly moves to Millennials, so they will become the primary subjects of most companies, and hence most marketing research. The differences between Millennials and earlier generations are widely documented: they are digital natives, social media is their milieu, they are delaying marriage, children, and homeownership, and their values are very different, with health, work/life balance, and giving back to society much more important.

While all of this may present challenges for marketers and indeed employers in general, the Millennials offer marketing researchers an opportunity. For a generation that expects to have a say in the way businesses operate through social media and the power of consumer reviews, and who also wants to give back to society, online surveys and related incentives can push both buttons.

A great example of this is what Subaru has done with their Love campaign. Subaru ads target higher income, higher educated consumers who want their purchases to reflect their values and attitudes. Subaru could appeal to their target with claims about resale value, durability, reliability, or gas mileage, but so could their competitors. Subaru wanted to stand apart. Alan Bethke, Director of Marketing Communications for Subaru of America, describes the foundation of the campaign: “If you ask a Subaru owner what they think of their car, more times than not they’ll tell you they love it.”

Perhaps one of the most powerful automotive television ads ever produced links safety to the value of keeping one’s family safe by showing wrecked Subaru’s with first responders, tow truck drivers, and mechanics all looking at the damage and saying, “They lived.” Another series of ads tell the story of parents turning over the Subaru their child grew up into their teenage drivers, delivering the safety messages more compellingly. Subaru ad says, “Our owners show their love by caring about their own and others’ safety.”

And Subaru takes it one step further with their Subaru Share the Love campaign. While other automotive ads are touting end of year low prices, Subaru runs an annual campaign of donating to charity. Subaru selects five charities to receive $250 from each new car sale or lease (as well as some very valuable advertising time and brand associations in Subaru marketing) during the winter holidays. This campaign has been extremely effective, raising over $115 million for charity over the life of the program.

Now it’s time for marketing research to share the love as well. Instead of monetary incentives, respondents may be more motivated to participate in research if they have the opportunity to donate their incentive to their favorite charity. Now, you may say that respondents have always had that option, but let’s face it – if we don’t make it easy for them, it is not going to motivate them. So, finding ways to easily and publicly donate incentives (or even a portion of incentives) to local charities could be a great way to entice respondents who might otherwise not participate.

Phillip Gendall and Benjamin Healey researched using donations in place of traditional incentives. They report in The Marketing Research Society (MRS): “In the study reported here, the promise of $2 or $5 donated to charity increased postal survey response by a small, non-significant amount, but a $1 donation was ineffective. Nevertheless, it appears that promising a donation to charity may sometimes be effective, particularly among women, where the expected increase in response could be four or five percentage points, and in surveys with a social rather than a commercial focus. If a promised donation to charity is used as a survey incentive, it is better to specify the charity to which the donation will be made, or to limit the choice to two or three options, rather than give respondents the option of nominating the charity of their choice.” That research was conducted with a general population in 2010. The results might be much stronger if they had only studied Millennials.

Along with technology, new data collection techniques, and mixed-method studies, the rise of the Millennials will bring changes to traditional marketing research approaches. Offering the ability to effortlessly donate to a recognized and vetted charity may be a great alternative to points, cash, or prizes. Depending on the survey topic and target population, it’s time to re-think incentives!