Departments - January/February 2013

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Special Markets Dialogue
Incentive Leaders Exchange Ideas on Issues Affecting Industry

By Deborah L. Vence

Gift cards, promotional products, market challenges, and more, were just a few of the subjects discussed by leaders from the incentive, recognition and promotional products industry in November at the Special Markets Dialogues in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As far as what issues were covered, "Pretty much the entire spectrum of issues that impact our channel," said Pete Mitchell, director of B-to-B Sales for Samsonite LLC, Mansfield, Mass., who facilitated the meeting.

"From gift cards to promotional products, the impact of tax law on our business, the state of associations and other interest groups, we're all over the lot. The event brings together the widest possible representation of the market. Those individuals obviously have subjects of expertise, but they also provide unique perspectives on other issues. We have a topics list, but we wander all over creation, and the discussion takes us wherever it does without us adhering to a given set of questions," Mitchell said.

One of the main take-aways from the discussion revealed an opportunity for those in the incentive, recognition and promotional products industry to become more of a resource for clients to help them understand what all the data means.

"There is a tremendous amount of data available to us. We can know what products are being chosen by incentive program participants, and how that compares/contrasts with what loyalty program participants choose," Mitchell said.

He added that "Suppliers like me can know what products are chosen by what clients, and resellers can know redemption patterns and how certain products impact those patterns. Our end-buyer cannot take the time to 'deep dive' into all this data. If we can take this avalanche of data and turn it into 'information'—actionable items—then we can assist our clients [in making] better decisions."

Mitchell also pointed out that clients want simplicity—"one-stop shopping that can handle their needs for promotion, recognition and corporate identity. The professionals in our business need to stop selling 'stuff' (which is available anywhere) and start selling 'information' that they can create by sifting through all the data that exists in the marketplace."

Another outcome from the meeting revealed that new technologies present a threat, and the incentive industry must respond to new capabilities.

"There is a revolution coming in the incentive channel," Mitchell said. "Retailers are already creating and executing programs that allow program participants to convert points to retail value. And, as these retailers become more visible in our market, many end-buyers will perceive a value by working with them. This impacts the total dollars spent with professionals in our business in a negative way."

There are also new ways to source and fulfill products.

"Technology is facilitating sourcing—you can buy product from China without having to go to China—and this may have direct impact on traditional suppliers in the channel. And everyone has to be mindful of how we communicate with our clients—younger people want to be contacted by text or other methods that baby boomers (who have mastered e-mail) will struggle with," he said.