Feature Article - November/December 2008

Inside the Incentive Industry

A Closer Look at the Incentive Marketing Association

By Emily Tipping

Though companies have been using merchandise and travel to motivate desired behaviors from their employees, customers, partners and salespeople for a very long time, it was just 10 years ago that an association was launched to help unite the suppliers of the tools on which those companies relied.

Celebrating its 10th year in 2009, the Incentive Marketing Association, or IMA, is made up of incentive product and service suppliers who together aim to promote the idea of incentive programs as an effective business tool to the wider corporate community.

Back in 2000 as the association was just getting its start, the Incentive Federation released a study of the incentive merchandise and travel marketplace, which showed that just 32 percent of respondents were users of merchandise and/or travel to motivate consumers, company salespeople, dealers, distributors and non-sales employees. Though that number was a jump from the 26 percent who used incentive merchandise and travel in a study conducted in 1996, the low number was seen by many in the industry as a "call to action," according to Karen Renk, executive director of IMA.

"The IMA's birth and growth is reflective of the direction the marketplace knew it had to travel," Renk explained. "A goal of the marketplace as a whole was to expand the number of organizations that use incentive programs."

Out of that need for growth, several organizations were born. In addition to IMA, other groups were started with related missions. The IMA itself is a founding member of the Incentive Performance Center and the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement.

"The IMA and the Forum were born to provide the empirical research needed to illustrate the importance of the relationship between engaged customers and engaged employees," Renk said. With the various organizations, trade publications and industry leaders all on board, Renk said, "…collectively the marketplace has been developing initiatives, editorial and education to take the message to a broader audience."

For its members, IMA offers outreach and public relations, as well as plenty of opportunities to get together and learn about increasing the effectiveness of their efforts. But what does IMA do for you—for those who are using incentive merchandise and travel in their own businesses and organizations?

Let's take a tour through some of the initiatives that IMA sustains—as well as some new ideas it's rolling out in its 10th year—to learn more.