Feature Article - March/April 2018

Inside IMRA

A Guide to an Important Incentive Industry Group

By Brian Summerfield

What Are IMRA's Programs and Priorities?

Both Rincon and Harrison said that IMRA's most important objectives are education and outreach, particularly to Corporate America, and that won't change in the years to come. The aim here is not only to raise awareness of what IMRA does and how it can help, but also to generally promote the value of incentives programs that include name-brand merchandise.

"Our biggest priorities for the foreseeable future are strengthening our corporate outreach, providing education for the regional associations, and simply to make Corporate America more aware of the ways we can help them build and run successful incentive programs," Harrison explained.

To those ends, the organization has a variety of initiatives going at any given time. One of those is industry events, most notably the annual IMRA Marketing Conference. (This year's conference, taking place April 15 to 17, will be held in Memphis.) But IMRA also participates in and promotes other events that focus on rewards and recognition, some of which are organized by its strategic partners.

In addition, IMRA compiles and shares a significant amount of research to demonstrate the positive relationship between organizational performance and incentive programs that use name-brand merchandise. Often in conjunction with IMA, IMRA also gets the word out via public relations efforts and earned media, Rincon said.

"IMA formed an Industry Experts Bureau, which includes industry veterans from IMRA and all the IMA Strategic Industry Groups," she explained. "They will serve as speakers and authors who share their industry knowledge with the public and media. The IMRA Marketing Committee has been diligently working on putting the word out online, through interviews, articles, etc., in target markets about who IMRA is and how we can help with their incentive programs."

On its website, IMRA provides a wealth of resources for members, including everything from an "Ask the Expert" form to a glossary of key industry terms. Perhaps its most important online offering, though, is a directory that allows visitors to the site to search for sales reps and merchandise suppliers using various criteria, ranging from geographic location to keywords around distinct products and services.

Another way in which IMRA serves its industry is in how it promotes training and professional standards among its membership. One way it does that is through the IMA's Certified Professional of Incentive Management (CPIM) designation. A rigorous program administered through a points system, it involves a combination of assessing professional experience and testing. Also, it must be renewed every three years to remain current.

"Many of our members have earned their CPIM designation," Harrison said. "This is a tested certification that requires time in the classroom combined with real-world experience."

"We will continue to edify the expertise of our IMRA sales representatives, who are the 'boots on the ground' for the brands they represent," Rincon said.

What's Ahead?

Though the fundamental mission of IMRA will remain the same in the years ahead, Rincon and Harrison both acknowledged that the landscape is shifting. There are more tools available to sales representatives, as well as more opportunities and challenges. So at least on a tactical level, IMRA is preparing to adapt to those changes.

One area in particular where Harrison and Rincon see a great deal of potential is the event and experiential category.

"Event experiences will continue to be in demand in 2018," Rincon said. "More IMRA manufacturers and NMCs are participating in event experiences directly or through a partnership. The relationships IMRA members have with each other and other industry suppliers allow us to offer recipients brand-name electronics, watches and bikes in the same event experience, no longer limiting recipients to selecting gifts from only one brand."

Whatever new directions the industry might take in the future, IMRA will do its best to evolve and keep its offerings up-to-date and relevant for the incentive landscape.

"We have some of the pioneers of this field in our organization, and we've all learned and benefited from their success," Harrison said. "The evolution of the onsite event has been amazing, and many of our members are driving these changes. We're seeing more collaborative experiences being designed now, programs that incorporate several types of non-cash awards. These have proven to provide a very memorable and enjoyable experience for the recipients."

Another important trend is the rise of high-tech "multifunction" products that do more than one thing, and are often networked with other devices. Some of these, such as the Amazon Echo line, are wholly new categories that didn't even exist a few years ago. Others are new spins on long-standing merchandise.

"We live in a very connected world these days," Rincon said. "Brands understand that, and more are incorporating or advancing technology in their products. The luggage industry, for example, has started to include USB ports on the outside of carry-on luggage for easy access to portable chargers. Other models have a built-in charger and scale. Of course, this has been met with some pushback by the airlines recently, nonetheless it's tech-related progress in the travel sector."

In addition to bundling more functions into single products, merchandise is often being bundled with other merchandise. "Demand for lifestyle-related products has increased, allowing recipients to choose a functional reward or gift that fits into their daily life," Rincon said. "Many suppliers are creating product bundles to differentiate ourselves from retailers and offer higher perceived value packages. Bundles—such as a laptop, computer bag and wireless mouse, or a bike, water bottle and helmet—have been very well received."

Whatever new directions the industry might take in the future, IMRA will do its best to evolve and keep its offerings up-to-date and relevant for the incentive landscape, Rincon said. "We are continually looking for new strategies to compete with the online retail platform and stay ahead of emerging industry trends," she explained. "IMRA members take pride in offering new, innovative and quality products to our customers, and will continue to do so."

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