Phone cards as research tool

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Pre-paid phone cards, popular with marketers as a promotional tool, are being considered for a potential role in research.

A telecom and a sales promotion agency are among companies trying to sell product marketers on the idea of getting people to respond to research surveys by offering them free phone time in exchange for their participation.


MHA Communications, a telecommunications company in Highland Park, Ill., that has created pre-paid phone cards for such clients as United Parcel Service and Johnson & Johnson, has developed a program based on an interactive voice-response system, said Aric March, president.

When card users dial an 800-number to activate the card, they are offered additional free time if they will respond to a market-research survey.

Mr. March said the program offers a chance to interact with customers.

"If we find people aren't listening to question No. 3 or don't understand it, we can change the question or tweak it," said Mr. March, who noted that UPS has already used the system, offering phone cards as an incentive to complete a customer preference survey.


Peter Barnet, president of Promosis, a sales promotion agency in Marblehead, Mass., that has worked with MHA to create phone card promotions, also is pitching the phone card as a research tool.

Mr. Barnet sees such research as being especially valuable to retailers.

"It's a way to learn buying patterns," Mr. Barnet said. "Companies can use it to put together things like lists of preferred customers who can then be offered special discounts."

"The pre-paid phone card is in its infancy and using it for research is a great way to leverage its power," said Jeffrey Kagan, a telecommunications analyst and president of Kagan Telecom Associates.

On the other hand, Advertising Research Foundation President Jim Spaeth said such research could be of limited value.

"You have to be absolutely positive that the promotional value of the card doesn't influence the person you're surveying," Mr. Spaeth said.

He acknowledged, however, the difficulty researchers have in getting people to respond to surveys.

"Anything that helps response and cooperation is a good thing," he added.

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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