Guest Column - November/December 2016

Communication Strategies to Boost Program Participation

By William Schafer

Communication is one of the most important business skills to master, no matter what industry or profession you may be in. However, if you think you are "mastering" it, then that is the biggest mistake in developing your program. Communication strategies and vehicles are changing at warp speed and the ability to fully articulate the program and create engagement must be multi-tiered.

So where does a company start for an employee or consumer program?

We always start with a very simple what/how/who model—specifically starting with a model that defines the messages and experiences you want to create (the "what"), the means of communication you use to create them (the "how"), and the people you need to reach to successfully have them participate (the "who"). This what/how/who model might seem simple, but making it visible to the decision-makers and mapping your initiatives against it shows how complex it can be, and supports the program.

"What" do companies want to do?

  • Initiate a consumer trial?
  • Increase brand awareness and market share?
  • Reward consumer loyalty?
  • Engage their workforce via peer-to-peer, years-of-service or spot recognition?
  • All of the above?

In today's complex marketplace, the health of every organization needs to have a program for each of these initiatives. By clearly articulating the "what" for each business unit, we now start to see the programs that will work best.

Now we need to address the "how"?

We recently brought on a new client for their employee program. The client was a very well-established business, and their program had been in place for years. We needed to accomplish two things immediately: one, to address risk aversion on the part of the client to make a change; and two, to infuse new life into the program with the end users.

Risk aversion is the number-one deterrent to change. However with Rymax's integrated web, smart device and social media programs, we were able to alleviate the concerns of management to change the program. We also defined each communication vehicle by demographic.

For the first time in modern history, workplace demographics span four generations. We have 20-year-old new hires working with individuals who are 50-plus years older. It's crucial to develop incentive programs that fit the needs of all four generations.

Brands can be aligned by each of the four generations in the workforce:

  • Silents (1925-1946): well-established brands such as RCA, Hamilton, Meade, Breitling.
  • Baby boomers (1946-1964): prestige brands such as Klipsch, Michael Kors, Coach, Coravin.
  • Gen X (1965-1980): tech brands such as Apple, Thule, 808, Nest.
  • Gen Y (after 1980): trendy brands, such as Furla, Stella McCartney, Rowland, Michael Aram.

These brands along with our more than 350 other brands infused new life into the program and delivered items that participants actually wanted.

And now the "who." In the case above, this was an employee program, but now with 90 percent of all companies/brands having some type of consumer loyalty program, the emphasis on what works changes. Some 84 percent of U.S. businesses use non-cash rewards to recognize and reward key audiences in the form of gift cards, merchandise, award points and tangible rewards. This has gone up from 74 percent back in 2013. In 2015, U.S. businesses also spent $90 billion on these non-cash rewards, up from $77 billion in 2013.

With the use of social media platforms, the opportunity to communicate and connect with participants has never been greater. The reality is that social media is here to stay and the sooner we accept it, the better it'll be for us to harness its power. Social media's real-time immediacy enables us to recognize everyday successes that may have gone unnoticed. It allows you to spread the news with counterparts from across the globe and even get your message out to a large audience in a fast and consistent manner. You can capture the moments with photos and videos of a recognition award, event or announcement where employees can even join in on the conversation and provide your company with feedback. With constant messaging and interactivity, social media is a phenomenal way to keep recognition programs top of participant's mind throughout the year.

Product incentives create trophy value that lasts a lifetime. It is a constant reminder of the task completed, work involved to complete it and recognition back to the corporation. It also provides a social and emotional aspect that motivates and drives performance in an individual. With the use of trophy awards, companies can build effective employee incentive programs that create value for both the organization and its employees.

When employees are interested in an incentive program and are more frequently recognized and appreciated for their efforts and achievements, they more clearly understand what is expected and needed from them in their daily work.

When effective strategies and excellent communication are put into place, program awareness and employee satisfaction positively affect the success of a company. As the workplace continues to evolve in this new economy, employees are being asked to adapt, learn and readapt in order for companies to retain a competitive edge. Recognizing and appreciating employees is critical for corporate survival and without management buy-in, individuals are less likely to engage.

The future is now and leaders around the world are starting to comprehend what a powerful business tool motivation can be for their employees, customers, clients and the longevity and strength of their brands and partnerships.

William Schafer is National Sales Manager - Solution Sales for Rymax Marketing Services Inc., a full-service loyalty marketing provider in the incentive industry solely focused on creating programs and events to drive ROI through brand name rewards. For 20 years organizations partnered with Rymax have seen an increase in employee performance and retention, customer loyalty and overall revenue. For more information, visit