Guest Column - November/December 2011

Leveraging the Emotional Side of Reward, Recognition and Loyalty Programs

By David Meyers

Our businesses and personal lives keep moving at the speed of light. In attempting to keep up with technology and the unsettled course of rapid change, one fundamental element of building a successful long-term reward, recognition and incentive program still holds true: Attracting and keeping the emotional engagement of your audience is a critical factor of a winning program.

Of course, technology can certainly play a major role in keeping program participants engaged—mobile reward applications, unique gaming contests, multi-channel communication modes, social media, etc. However, in addition to technology, offering rewards and incentives that provide participants with unique, unforgettable and easy-to-redeem experiences is the perfect complement to the high-touch-point, technology-driven programs.

The Perfect Complement

Offering unique experiential gifts and rewards plays perfectly into the "social media" strategy that we all are striving to achieve with our businesses. How do we get people excited about our company, products, services and loyalty programs? How do we stimulate socially driven discourse and feedback from our customers, partners and employees?

Experiential rewards and gifts are not a new phenomenon. People have been purchasing, redeeming and receiving corporate gifts (hotel stays, dining certificates, travel rewards, spa/wellness gifts, etc.) and activity-based experience gifts (ballooning, whitewater rafting, etc.) for many years. These items remain a very popular non-cash reward recognition and incentive tool. The more unique and interesting the experience, the more memorable it will remain. Furthermore, with most people struggling to find the time to take a "breather" from the daily grind, experiences are easy to redeem and do not take a lot of planning—ideal for the recipient. Whether it's a gourmet dinner at a unique restaurant, a three-hour hot air ballooning expedition, fly fishing at a pristine wooded river or a unique overnight bed & breakfast getaway, all activities can be enjoyed over a 24-hour period. The mix of activities and experiences offered is broad enough to address the demographics of your audience, so there always will be something for everyone to enjoy. Also, it is likely the gift recipient will fondly remember from whom they received the unique experience.

Stimulate Participant Feedback

Within the experiential rewards and corporate gift experience categories, there is significant opportunity to integrate the "emotional experience" into the marketing of a program, ultimately encouraging and stimulating the sharing of the experience within the given social feedback loop platform the program provides. If the program does not yet have a formal feedback loop, it is a great way to launch such a process. For example, you might establish Facebook or Twitter platforms where recipients—rewarded employees or clients—can share their experiences while including photos and reviews of the experiences. As we all know, creating a program where we can engage, interact and establish continuity is an earmark of a successful program. Establishing these actions to the degree that we form a community around a program is a big win.