Feature Article - March/April 2011

Make It Matter

Working With IMRA Members to Ensure Your Incentive's a Winner

By Emily Tipping

When you're ready to design and launch your incentive and reward program, know this: You are not alone.

Or, at least, you don't have to be.

That's because there's a whole world of resources out there to help you get it right the first time. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

When you enlist the assistance of a member of the Incentive Manufacturers and Representatives Alliance (IMRA), you'll be getting expert advice and, potentially, years of experience with programs just like yours.

Merchandise Matters

But, before we discuss how IMRA works—and, more importantly, how IMRA can work to help you in your efforts to motivate and inspire your workforce, partners, sales representatives and customers—let's take a step back and talk about what kinds of tools you should be using in your program.

"If you ask everybody what they want, they'll say cash," said Pete Mitchell, director of B-to-B Sales for Samsonite Corp. and incoming president of IMRA. "But cash is compensation, and sooner or later, it all mingles in the wallet and loses the impact desired by the giving entity."

When your recipient spends their award on groceries or bills, they're not likely to remember the good feelings associated with that reward for long, the argument goes.

How do you avoid losing the effectiveness of your gift or reward? Turn to a gift or reward whose impact will not fade.

"Merchandise carries not just the intrinsic value of the product, but also what we call trophy value, which is being able to receive something that you might not have bought on your own that you would then be able to show off to your friends," Mitchell said. "And, because it's a more lasting thing, you'll be able to look at it in the future and remember how you attained it. If you got it because you were a high achiever in the company, you're going to remember that. That resonates, and its residual value both to the participant, but also to the giver to connect to the participant is in excess of the intrinsic value of the product itself."

Bill Martocci, a principal with Carlisle Sales & Marketing in Oakdale, N.Y., and current secretary of IMRA, agreed. "When merchandise is used, the connection between the reward recipient and the entity offering the incentive is considerably stronger than other forms used," he said. "Much of that is psychological, strongly based in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs."

What does this mean?

"When the recipient receives a gift in the form of cash, it will most likely go to their most basic need," Martocci said. "If that $50 or $100 went to fill up their gas tank, pay a repairman or buy groceries, the connection between the giver and receiver is quickly lost upon the completion of the transaction. It would be rare if, at the dinner table, Dad passes the chicken and announces that this food was received as a reward for a job well done. How about a mom who pays her hairdresser and tells the stylist and her friends her new do is courtesy of her employer? Not likely either."

A tangible gift of merchandise, on the other hand, brings up the memory of how the gift was obtained time and time again, as the gift is used.

"For example, you see your brother has a new 50-inch LCD TV, and you comment on how nice it is," Martocci added. "He thanks you for noticing, then immediately goes on to mention that it was a gift from his employer for achieving 10 years with the company. That acknowledgement is exactly what the giver would appreciate—a lasting effect and sentiment that carries on well past the physical receipt of the incentive, gift or award."