Guest Column - November/December 2008

It Takes Two (or More) to Tango

Finding the Right Incentive Merchandise Partners

By Pete Mitchell


I heard once that selecting merchandise for an incentive program is a lot like dating. You want to find the "right" partner, one who's interesting, exciting, maybe a little dangerous—but in the end, you want one who'd still be OK to show your mother.

And like Saturday night at the bar, the prospect list is pretty robust. You've got your nerds, your jocks, your snobs and the "safe" choices. So many choices, so little time—how do you narrow down the field?

What Works, What Doesn't

There are two kinds of products that do well in incentive programs:

  • The sort of thing you can never have too many of: luggage, watches, golf balls, coolers. (Take a look in your garage or closet sometime—just how many coolers does one family need?)
  • Something you might want, but wouldn't necessarily buy for yourself: upscale brands like Movado or Bose, "experiences" like NASCAR driving school, or something you don't want to spend your own money on (like vacuum cleaners, which always do well in incentive programs because who wants to buy one?).

In my (gasp!) 20 years in the market, I've learned that the three best-redeeming incentive categories are:

Electronics! Electronics! Electronics!

Just kidding—but there's no denying the power of consumer electronics to get the attention of any participant. They're cool-looking, have a high BLPD (Buttons and Lights Per Dollar) quotient, and are something you can brag about to your friends. But just about anything can make a strong impact on your audience if you take the time to learn more about the audience you're rewarding or recognizing.

There is one thing that doesn't work so well in incentive programs—things you use to do your job. Nothing says "we care" more than giving employees something they already use every day. And the company's own product doesn't work so well either, unless of course the company is Ferrari!