I was thrilled to spend October 22-25 in Orlando, attending The Market Research Event (TMRE). It’s the world’s top conference for professionals in research-led organizations, and has been bringing people together with an agenda of valuable keynotes, panels and break-out tracks for over 15 years.  I joined insights executives who were “looking to take back control and re-establish insights role as power players for their businesses,” listened to amazing presentations from speakers like New York Times best-selling authors Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Alter, and had eye-opening conversations about what’s going well and what could be improved in the world of market research.

Despite EML’s experience supplying payout cards to market research firms, there’s always more to learn about the industry. Technology is changing, and participant expectations are changing along with it. I expanded my knowledge about key differences between quantitative and qualitative research, listened to fellow attendees talk about how they operate their panel payouts, and spent the plane ride home thinking about how EML can address some of their pain points.

Here are my top three takeaways from TMRE 2017 on the market research industry:

Many market research firms are still paying participants by paper check. This is a problem for a variety of reasons. First, it’s less enticing to participants. People are used to getting things done online, so you have to make them want to come in and complete a study in person – the best way to do that is with a well-designed, conveniently-delivered incentive. Checks aren’t well-designed or conveniently delivered. They aren’t sent out until after the study is completed, and then they still need to run through accounting and the mail system … so they’re slow. And for market research firms, they’re expensive.

Gift cards combat almost every problem with paper checks. They can be customized with your own logo and colors for an eye-catching design. They’re convenient enough for participants to carry around in their wallets. They can be activated and handed out as soon as participants complete a study, so there’s no payment lag time for them, and no additional administrative headache for researchers. And market research firms might be surprised to learn how financially reasonable it can be to invest in a gift card program.

Many other market research firms are paying participants by generic gift cards. This isn’t necessarily a problem – paying your participants with generic prepaid cards provides them with the instant convenience they’re looking for, which is great. But other than taking hassle off staff hands, generic gift cards don’t provide much benefit for researchers. EML’s gift cards, on the other hand, provide a number of benefits. We can customize the physical card so participants are reminded of where they earned the money every time they use your gift card, which could make them more likely to return for another study. We offer open loop cards, which means participants can use them anywhere, as well as more customized solutions that provide a degree of control through customized spending options while still giving cardholders flexibility. For example, if a pharmaceutical research company only wants participants to be able to redeem their gift cards at pharmacies in general (or even one pharmacy specifically), we can utilize EML’s restriction technology to restrict card use to only that merchant category. Then, whether they choose open loop or custom loop, market research firms will be able to track spending – where participants use their cards and how – to make more informed decisions in the future.

Many market research firms are still spending way too much time and money processing their own gift cards. As the program manager and processer of the card program, EML takes an incredible amount of weight off market research firms’ shoulders by handling those processes. We fulfill the cards, we provide customer support for the cards, and we process the cards. We take responsibility for processing tasks that take a huge amount of time. That’s time research firm staff could be spending on participant-facing initiatives, which translates into dollars saved in labor, and potential dollars earned in better-attended studies.

If you’re with a market research firm that is interested in learning more about how EML’s customizable gift cards could enhance your participant payment program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or our business development team.