Feature Article - May/June 2016

Spread the Word

Smart Communication Strategies for Recognition & Reward Programs

By Joe Bush


The Right Tools

These companies use software that can send automated messages such as personalized monthly statements of activity on individual reward accounts, automated periodic reminders that the program is available, and confirmations that let participants know a reward had been applied.

Leslee Vivian is communications director for just such a company, Carlton Group Ltd., which offers software as a service (SaaS) for companies looking to farm out their incentive and recognition programs. She said the communications aspect of its cloud-based performance enhancement software product, named Power To Motivate (PTM), is essential.

"If they don't know about it, they can't participate," she said of incentive programs.

The software brands every message and media, beginning with a welcome e-mail at the launch of each program. That message posts as a web news article on a dedicated website to which members log in to see all program-related communications. Points totals are e-mailed to members, doubling as program reminders. The software's messaging makes suggestions for redemption based on points balance or past redemptions.

If a company is running programs for different divisions, the software can multi-task, Vivian said, running simultaneous programs with unique branding that target different groups such as call center employees and field reps. P™ can also handle recognition programs like years of service, for example.

Vivian said P™ leverages its technological genetics to make program participation fun. "We're really looking to engage the members in communication, keep them excited and interested in the program," she said. "We introduce elements of gamification, there's games to play, there's leaderboards, there's tracking. They see where they are, and how they compare to other members of their team.

"Because they can see multiple ways to earn points there's always a motivation to keep selling or keep achieving goals that have been set for you so you can earn more points and redeem for a huge variety of rewards."

Mike May is president of incentive program consultants SpearOne. He believes in the power of electronic communications and social media but says non-virtual communication, like one-on-one recognition, should never be minimized. Inside his own company, for example, employees give each other handwritten notes with $10 Starbucks gift cards for small appreciations.

Define goals; lay out a timeline; keep push communications succinct; have themes for premium products; and make communications at least 10 percent of a program's overall budget.

"I walk around and see in the cubicles where they've saved the cards that say, 'Thank you for working late on that special project for a client of mine last week,' 'Thank you for the great idea,' or 'Thank you for extra special customer service,'" May said. "Those notes stay around longer than the couple of iced lattes they got."

Similarly, May said reminding employees of an incentive program with desktop items still works in a world of text messages, Facebook notifications, Tweets and e-mail blasts.

"The premium (desktop) items are sadly sometimes squeezed out of the program, but yet they're the most effective because a kickoff announcement that gets printed and mailed is really just going to last for that day," May said. "People aren't going to keep it around. If they did keep it around they're going to file it away in a drawer and never open it again, whereas if you do a promotional product, hopefully that's going to stay on top of their desk if it's a desk item or a keychain, something that ties into the theme of the program that they'll use in their personal life. It's around and is a constant reminder. I'm a huge believer in the tangible."

May is not exactly old school, but he does say there is a danger of relying too much on technology-based messages.

"There's a place for them, we do tons of it, but they're less effective because most people when they're reading their e-mails sit there with their index finger on the delete key clicking as fast as a teenager plays video games," he said. "There's an over-rotation toward electronics. There's an underfunding of print communications and I would say there's even too little of the premium promotion relative to the effectiveness.

"We recommend strongly that (electronic communication) be a parallel tactic, that it not be exclusive. To do it well, electronic communication, it needs to be graphical and if you make the investment in graphic design for e-mails the incremental cost of printing and distributing that item as a flyer is not that much money, but yet so many people don't."

Investing in graphic design talent and technology is one item on May's list of best practices. Others include: define goals; lay out a timeline; keep push communications succinct; have themes for premium products; and make communications at least 10 percent of a program's overall budget.

The money goes to the mouthpieces.

"The communication is so important to ensure the incentive promotion is not the best-kept secret that the company has," May said. "What you hate is when somebody earns a reward, you announce to them that they got the reward and their response is, 'Oh, I didn't even know there was a contest.' You want to avoid your contests being the best-kept secret."