Feature Article - March/April 2018

One Size Does Not Fit All

Experts Talk Individualization Strategies for Incentives

By Deborah L. Vence

Businesses use incentives to motivate employees and help attract and retain customers. Even more important is that those incentives often work best when they are suited to individuals, rather than the masses.

In fact, some research shows the importance of and push toward more individualization. In the Incentive Research Foundation's (IRF) 2017 trends study, it stated the emerging "next level" of experience: individualized experiences and the importance of emotion. The study indicated, for example, that "One of the primary ways to tap emotion is through experiences." Also, "The push toward individual experiences has continued to grow on a number of fronts, especially individual travel experiences and merchandise experiences."

Achieving Individualization in Rewards

Finding incentives that suit an individual's needs involves delivering the power of choice through a wide variety of carefully chosen premium reward options.

"Incentive programs must include a diverse mix of product rewards that appeal to an equally diverse audience," said Allyson Krichman, senior director of product sales for Rymax, Pine Brook, N.J. "Everyone's personal preferences are different. Some are based on want and some are based on need … and most times they mirror retail trends."

A successful program offers top brands with a strong retail presence to satisfy all of those varying demands. "So, understand your audience's preferences and offer them an assortment of in-demands products that matter most to them," Krichman said.

Similarly, Rick Buer, CEO of GC Incentives, Omaha, Neb., said that to accomplish personalization and individualization with incentive rewards, you have to offer choice.

"One item does not fit all tastes, lifestyles and income levels in an organization," he said.

One of the reasons gift cards are so popular is that a gift card to a restaurant or popular store gives the recipient access to the dining experience or item choices within that store or online catalog that inspire them.

"GC Incentives clients give their recipients a GC GiftPass, which includes a personal message or digital animation, photos or videos and lets the recipient choose from over 200 merchant gift cards and really find what speaks to them," Buer said.

Eric Thiegs, president, National Gift Card, Crystal Lake, Ill., said, "Reaching individuals requires the ability to offer a unique selection of gift cards in both format and category that relates best to the person's usage preferences and stage of life or shopping interest."

For instance, he said, a millennial woman who is about to have a baby might prefer a digital gift card as her incentive reward that she can redeem online immediately at a brand such as Kohl's or Buy Buy Baby.

"This is uniquely different than a gen X male who is a new homeowner and may want his reward sent as a physical gift card to redeem at The Home Depot," he said.

What's more, "Programs that can tailor both the delivery option of the gift card incentive (digital or physical) with a brand that fits the unique stage of life or preference of the individual," he added, "will find much more engagement and excitement from the users in their program as the relevance of the reward translates directly to the uniqueness of the individual at this point in their lives."

Incentives always are a matter of personal choice as such selection across all significant reward categories is key to ensuring that your programs are designed to meet the needs of a broad audience, according to Rob Purdy, founder and CEO of Carlton One Engagement (formerly Carlton Group), based in Toronto, Canada.

"Within our programs we include a broad selection of merchandise, retail gift cards and media including digital music, movies, magazines as well as mobile top up," Purdy said. "In addition, we provide a very robust global travel engine with over 400,000 hotels, car rentals, experiences, cruises, airlines as well as hundreds of thousands of highly discounted weekly resort getaways."

Within his company's Rewards 3.0 whitepaper, he explained that identifying that reward selection is no different to any e-commerce relationship, meaning that his company's reward galleries need to use similar e-commerce technical features, such as deals of the day, on-sale featured rewards, related purchase suggestions, items for $50 or less, as well as quick searches that enable members to get to their desired rewards faster.

"Today's UX [user experience] makes searching for that special reward very easy, and let's face it, if our reward selection doesn't match the competitive realities of other e-commerce sites, then your members will redeem for a gift card every time," he said.

"At Global Reward Solutions, our UX is designed to enable our reward merchandisers to merchandise all reward categories in a way that makes it more compelling for our members to redeem for rewards across all categories. Merchandise remains one of our largest redemption categories while online travel and digital media continue to grow in importance with all of our clients and their members," he said.

To boot, "merchandise rewards are seeing a real renaissance within our overall reward mix, which we know is due to the fact that we have expanded our listings to include over 2,000 brands with deeper selection across all of the major brands and categories that really sell," he said.

For example, Purdy's company now offers more than 20,000 fashion products and 25,000 outdoor sports products, including Cabela's branded merchandise. "Since their launch just 18 months ago, these two categories have exploded in terms of overall order volume, which reinforces our position that as we expand our merchandise selection our members are now shopping and buying more merchandise than ever," Purdy said.

And, selection is the key to increasing overall merchandise volume, and this is true for other reward categories, including travel, media and experiential products. "If we cannot secure the hotel you need with a matching flight, then we cannot truly service the reward needs of our members," he said.