Feature Article - January/February 2016

Beyond the Reward

Creating a Memorable Experience Is Equally Important

By Deborah L. Vence


No matter if it's a gift card for your favorite online retailer, a coveted electronic item or a name-brand watch, when it comes right down to it, the actual experience of getting a reward is just as important as the reward itself.

This idea was supported by research from the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) that revealed the importance of communicating and rewarding effectively. What was found is that between 40 percent and 70 percent of the average preferred reward experience has nothing to do with the physical reward itself.

"Recent Incentive Research Foundation and Incentive Marketing Association research shows that the reward preferences of program participants are highly variable," said Susan Adams, CPIM, CEP, director of engagement, Dittman Incentive Marketing, New Brunswick, N.J. "Some prefer recognition in front of peers. Others prefer a private 'thank you!' Some prefer travel, [while] others would appreciate a merchandise item they have long aspired to attain."

In this issue, incentive experts share their thoughts on the best way to create a reward experience, some resourceful approaches and what you should avoid.

Create an Experience

Organizations must balance the need for control and oversight with the human reality that each award recipient is an individual with unique preferences.

"A robust engagement platform will provide the right prompts and materials to ensure that recognition is delivered uniformly and in line with company values and goals," Adams said.

What's important, however, is that this also provides a wide array of choices—from gift cards to merchandise to travel packages—and connects to each participant's personal aspirations.

The actual experience of getting a reward is just as important as the reward itself.

"The incentive or recognition program and the brand become linked to the participant's individual ambitions and dreams. This can be highly motivating and deepens the connection between the participant and the organization, while delivering a strong, positive experience to the people who have worked so hard to achieve company goals," she said.

Mary Luckey, director of reward strategy, master designer, Maritz Motivation Solutions, said the best way to create an experience is to put yourself in the participant's shoes and design the experience from their point of view.

"At Maritz Motivation Solutions, we use a tool called an Empathy Map. Before we ever begin designing an experience, we start with the people that are in the program," she said. "We conduct interviews with real people in a program and literally map out what people are currently thinking about, seeing, saying and doing in regard to their program. We even give them names to make it more real."

The idea behind this is to identify areas of potential improvement in the experience.

"Then we map out what we want them to see, say, do, etc.," she added. "This identifies gaps in the current experience and gives us a clear roadmap for improving the experience. Once you really get into the heads of the people in your program, it's easy to see what needs to be done."

Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF, McLean, Va., added that "In our most recent research with IMA we found that 40 to 70 percent of the preferred total award experience was determined by the award presentation and professional development aspects of the award."

"The first steps," she said, "are to understand for the person you are recognizing who, how and what are most important to them as individuals.

"From whom would they find it most rewarding to receive the award (manager, peers, etc.)? How do they most prefer the award be communicated (face-to-face, in a team meeting, etc.)? What types of professional development can you tie to the award (special networking, assignments, etc.)?" she said.

On average, for large rewards what was found is that public recognition from executives with additional networking opportunities are most selected; and for small rewards private recognition by management with special assignments were most preferred.

"But again, this is on average, and when giving an award one really needs to know the individual a bit more personally," Van Dyke said.

What's also critical is to recognize that there is a difference between a reward experience and a retail experience.

"There is an emotional connection between a reward that a recipient redeems for that is entirely different from when they go out and simply buy the item, such as a TV or a radio or a toaster," said Dave Peer, vice president, global merchandising, global reward solutions, Carlton Group Ltd. "There is a far more personal connection to the reward."