Feature Article - September/October 2008

All Fun and Games (Almost)

The Value of High-Tech Incentives

By William Flanagan

Technology has its usefulness in the business world. But its function as a distraction from the everyday grind might be its most valuable asset, especially when it comes to attracting and motivating program participants.

There are two things people use technology for: One is to make life easier.

From the days of the desktop calculator to the emergence of the notebook computer and the cell phone, technology has been making life easier on business people on a daily basis—even to the point that it gets hard to keep up.

"With a constantly changing technology market, consumers strive to be on top of current trends," said Olivier Jammaers, merchandising manager for Rymax Marketing Services Inc., one of the largest national manufacturers' representatives in the incentive industry. "Consumers can't get enough of the latest and greatest—there's always some 'cool' gadget that can be upgraded and enhanced to make our daily lives less complicated."

The other use for technology, despite any veiled excuses from consumers, is simply for fun. And that may be the main reason people are attracted to high-tech products in their company's incentive programs and catalogs.

According to Michelle Smith, vice president of business development at Glendale, Calif.-based O.C. Tanner, it is high-tech products' ability to deliver both fun and function that ensure their perennial popularity in incentive programs.

"By their very nature, they help us do our jobs more effectively and efficiently (think computers and GPS devices), as well as optimizing our recreational time (home-theater systems and portable electronics) and easily sharing our experiences with extended family and friends (digital cameras and photo printers)," she said. "As time-strapped as we all are, that's a great benefit that resonates with most people and makes electronics an attractive award."

The speed with which new high-tech products are developed also makes this category of merchandise a top choice for award-winners and program planners alike, Smith added.

"High-tech is one category that continues to advance at lightning speed, so fairly soon after receiving a high-tech award, there is almost always a new version with additional bells and whistles available," she said. "This leads to repeat redemptions as program participants upgrade to the newer features."

Incentive Planning

With the wide range of choice available in high-tech products, it makes sense to include as many types of products as possible in just about any type of incentive program. Smith said that the only program where electronics are not the best fit are "milestone" types of rewards, such as retirement, years of service or recognition of a corporate or professional milestone.

"Those program awards should be something enduring that memorializes the event or achievement for years to come," she explained. "The rapid rate in which high-tech products become outdated diminish their appropriateness for optimizing the timelessness of the award in these programs."

For other types of programs, it is important to lead your program participants by the hand through their various options, because staying on top of the latest developments in technology is beyond many people's scope. In fact, it may be beyond your scope, so ask your partners—manufacturers, manufacturers' reps and incentive houses—for help in determining the right mix of products.

"Keeping up with the latest technological advances is a challenge," Smith said. "I've seen award winners' eyes glaze over and smiles fade when they get a look at the 2-inch-thick product manual. This is an area where incentive provider partners need to lead the way for our clients to help them select award choices that will excite, not overwhelm, their program participants.

"Getting the award mix right for the participant group has always been important, but with high-tech there are more opportunities for a misstep, due to some of the complexity," she added. "It's even more important to think through the award options for your program. One way to overcome any obstacles for award-winners is to bundle the award with setup and installation support from a high-tech service/support provider."