Feature Article - November/December 2009

Back Into The Future

IMA Looks Ahead to an Improving Future

By Rick Dandes

For 11 years, the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) has been a shining star in the firmament of organizations devoted to promoting high standards of professionalism in the incentive field. Many businesses have traditionally used various products and travel opportunities as incentives to motivate their employees, partners and customers, but it was IMA that first sought to bring together under one umbrella organization the suppliers of those products.

IMA's goal was to become the leading voice of incentive products and service suppliers. That voice was needed in the industry at the time, explained IMA Executive Director Karen Renk. A survey was done in 2000 by the Incentive Federation, Renk recalled, which showed that just 32 percent of respondents used merchandise or travel to motivate consumers, company salespeople, dealers, distributors and non-sales employees.

That study, Renk said, was a wakeup call to the incentive industry. The IMA's birth and subsequent growth is reflective of the direction the marketplace knew it had to travel, she believes.

A major initiative of IMA was thus to increase the number of businesses that used incentive programs. That mission continues today. And, to that end, over the past decade, IMA has provided education and information, publications, conferences and seminars, and research to help businesses efficiently use incentive programs to motivate employees and customers.

On top of that, the IMA became a founding member of the Incentive Performance Center and the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement, two organizations with related missions. "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.

According to research, Corporate America spends $46 billion a year on incentives. But research also indicates that only about 40 percent of North American organizations use incentive programs to motivate employees and customers. That leaves a staggering potential for growth in the incentive industry and for those suppliers who address those needs. Another of IMA's goals, like all associations, is to leverage that potential and help its members prosper in the marketplace.

That's why the research and outreach aspects of IMA's mission are more important now than ever, in these precarious, fast-changing economic times.

As questions posed by business leaders about the incentive business get harder and more complex, the answers given by incentive professionals must get better and more targeted. Too much is at stake to base tomorrow's decisions, designs and systems on yesterday's concepts and technologies. That's where IMA steps in. IMA members know how to build effective and efficient incentive programs to motivate employees and customers.

Barbara Hendrickson, president of Design Incentives, in Livonia, Mich., and an IMA board member, notes that IMA is out to bring the message of the incentive marketplace to the corporate world. "That's important because there are those who don't even know we're an industry, let alone all of the strategic industry groups that exist in that industry," she said.