Feature Article - November/December 2016

Building Up

Changes Strengthen IMA Brand & Operations

By Deborah L. Vence

Future Goals

The IMA continues to make plans for the future, too, with a pursuit toward more externally-focused activities.

"Over the past year or two we've been talking a lot about transition within IMA. Now that we have a stronger internal structure in place, we can put our energy into pursuing more externally-focused activities to fulfill IMA's mission of promoting the efficacy of incentives to the public," Roark said.

"We're focusing on building unity within the industry which helps all of us deliver more value to businesses," he said. "We're moving forward with strategies to create new resources and education so members can stay on top of trends. We're increasing our marketing and promotion of the business benefits of incentives and the value of IMA membership."

The IMA is continuing to expand its partnerships with related industry organizations, such as the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) and the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI).

"Through these collaborations we're seeing more commonalities than differences and finding new ways to work together to better serve businesses," said Ted Moravec, treasurer of the IMA and vice president of Elite Creations.

Recent studies show that corporate America is using incentives to improve business results, and the incentive industry is now at $90 billion and growing.

"We're also seeing a convergence of our segments," Moravec said. "Businesses are looking for programs that reward in multiple ways throughout the year, and younger generations are looking for experiences rather than stand-alone rewards. This creates opportunities for gift cards, merchandise, travel and all channels to work together."

Roark added that the IMA is poised for growth.

"We're functioning at a higher level of service to our members. We're developing a better understanding that we are stronger together and we can continue to make the market bigger by working together," he said.

"We're looking at additional membership categories," he added, "and we're seeing increasing international interest that we hope will lead to more chapters."

Industry Trends

The truth is that incentives work, and "more data exists now than ever before showing that organizations with engaged employees and customers do better, and well-designed incentive programs can play an important role in creating the desired business results," Roark said.

The Incentive Federation Marketplace Estimate Research Study, in fact, showed 84 percent of U.S. businesses are spending $90 billion annually on award points, gift cards, trips and travel, and merchandise. While the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance (IMRA) Small Business Study revealed that 72 percent of small businesses using merchandise rewards experienced growth in the past year.

The truth is that incentives work, and more data exists now than ever before showing that organizations with engaged employees and customers do better, and well-designed incentive programs can play an important role in creating the desired business results.

"This expansion is creating a more sophisticated incentive marketplace with B2C expectations in a B2B environment, new opportunities to expand reward and recognition programs to create sustainable change, and customized rewards and experiences," Roark said.

He also noted that another industry trend has to do with sustainability.

"Businesses are focusing on more short-term rewards for longer term success. By rewarding desired behaviors throughout the year, companies are enhancing engagement and increasing the sustainability of the desired behaviors," he said.

For example, the old style of sales programs often offered rewards only to a limited number of top sellers, and once those programs were maxed out the remainder of the sales team didn't have the same opportunity to earn a reward.

"Today's programs are more 'campaign-based', so sellers have multiple chances of earning rewards throughout the year," he said. "The same principles are being applied to employee engagement and other reward and recognition programs as well."

In addition, Roark said "one size does not fit all."

The IMA Participant Study showed that nearly all participants had unique award profiles in terms of preferred award, presentation/ceremonial aspects, and more.

"Today you'll often see points programs that offer options for a wide range of rewards so the employee or customer can select something meaningful to them whether it be a gift card, merchandise or perhaps banking the points to earn a larger reward, such as a trip," he added.