Feature Article - March/April 2017

The Ongoing Evolution of Incentives & Rewards

A Roundtable Discussion With IMRA

By Joe Bush

The Conversation

PIP: What is influencing corporate gifting these days?

Ted Moravec, IMRA President, and Executive Vice President, Elite Creations: Since the recession we have seen a lot of hard data on the overwhelming use of incentives and corporate gifts to drive business results. The Incentive Federation's 2016 Industry Size Study showed 84 percent of U.S. businesses are spending $90 billion annually on award points, gift cards, trips and travel, and merchandise, and the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance (IRMA) Small Business Study showed that 72 percent of small businesses using merchandise rewards experienced growth in the past year. The recent Incentive Research Foundation 2017 Trends Study showed more program owners reported using every category of merchandise and gift card that the IRF measures.

Corporate gifts and rewards are no longer just for sales incentive or employee service programs. 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. For example, the old style of sales program 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. The same principles are being applied to employee engagement and other reward and recognition programs as well.

Scott Whitehead, IMRA Board Member, and National Sales Manager, Special Markets, Bushnell: The marketplace is growing, which means sales managers and other program managers can find it overwhelming to research which merchandise items are popular, particularly across a multi-generation workforce.

Tasha Sharp, IMRA Board Member, and President, Sharp Incentives: The one thing everyone is short on is time. There's no down time. For someone to pick up the phone to contact multiple suppliers because they want a variety of ideas takes time.

PIP: How can reps help time-starved program managers save time and money?

Chris Harrison, IMRA Treasurer, and National Sales Manager, Kleerwest LLC: If you're working with a rep, chances are very good the rep has already worked with a similar type program. In addition to streamlining the purchasing process, they can streamline the merchandise selection process.

Just because a customer has specific merchandise item in mind, that doesn't mean it's the best fit for their intended recipients. We're familiar with what type of product works with which demographic to achieve the desired result. We can steer them away from products we've had trouble with, and we can introduce them to hot new items that are performing well.

Vilia Johnson, IMRA Board Member, and President, Brandsource Incentives: The incentive multi-line rep is the vital link between the supplier and program managers—communicating information and ideas, and facilitating transactions. They understand how the suppliers work and can help you navigate working with brands to find the most profitable and reliable options to meet your specific needs.

Scott Whitehead: Our company, Bushnell, has a parent company that owns 50 brands. If you call asking for information, you could get directed many different ways. If you work through my rep, she's there to be a consultant. She interacts with customers every day and has more insights on what's working best. And, when I have something new, I get it out to my reps so they're always going to have the latest information.

Micah Vander Tuig, IMRA Board Member, and Special Markets Manager, O'Rourke Sales Company: Reps provide expert assistance. We can help businesses get better results because we help them provide programs that are better targeted with more memorable items. We were working with a company that was only familiar with the promotional products side of gifting. Our experience helped us ask the right questions to get them to where they wanted to be. The staff in the factory at this account was 90 percent male ages 35 to 55. We identified merchandise with high appeal to this demographic.

PIP: What makes brands timeless in their appeal/value?

A good brand is consistently going to give you a positive experience. When you use a brand as a reward or an incentive, you receive the benefit of years and years of reinforcement about the unique value of that brand.

Chris Harrison: A good brand is consistently going to give you a positive experience. When you use a brand as a reward or an incentive, you receive the benefit of years and years of reinforcement about the unique value of that brand.

Tasha Sharp: For awards and recognition, we desire brands and status symbols. It's just in our blood. A brand that no one has ever heard of feels less important. The person has probably thought about having a Jura coffee maker, which has an immediate recognition as a quality product.

Micah Vander Tuig: You often hear stories that reinforce the power of brands. Recently, after explaining to a friend what I did for a living and what our industry does, he told me about a TV he had won a few years back from a sales contest through his work. He told me it was the best thing he had won from his company, and he thought about it almost every time he turned on his TV. That is a perfect example of the power of brand name merchandise and its ability to have a long-lasting effect on the user.