Feature Article - March/April 2019

Power Up Your Program

Make Your Incentive Program More Memorable

By Rick Dandes


Other Keys to Success

To achieve significant program impact, then, you need to ask, are the awards being offered of interest and appealing to the participants? Ira Ozer, president, Engagement Partners and Innovation Meetings, Chappaqua, N.Y., said, "Do the awards fit their demographics and personal interests? Do they have enough value to make them worth the effort? Are they selected around a theme? Do participants have the ability to make a choice? The more personally appealing, the greater the impact will be and the more useful that awards are over time, the more memorable they will be. Group incentive travel is generally the most memorable type of incentive award, but expensive and time-consuming, so limited in the number of participants who can win."

If achievement in the program and the awards provide "trophy" value, which can be shared with peers and family, "this provides powerful psychological validation of success through social recognition," Ozer said. "This has great impact and is memorable."

Leaderboards can have positive reinforcement impact for competitive programs such as sales incentives, but can provide negative reinforcement for team-based employee programs such as peer recognition.

Other keys to success, Ozer contends, are:

  • Communications: An impactful communications strategy must be developed, with a campaign approach that starts way before the incentive program and then runs through and beyond it. The campaign tactics should include multimedia elements, including a program website, personalized e-mail blasts, print pieces and themed promotional items as "teasers."
  • Measurement: Progress reports that show how the participant is doing toward success should be sent to participants using personalized e-mails in addition to the program website.
  • Training: Ensuring that participants have the knowledge and skills to achieve the results, by providing an integrated training program, with at least basic content with quizzes, is highly impactful and memorable in terms of the skills that will be learned and used on an ongoing basis.
  • Coaching: "Coaching is often overlooked. Providing coaching and recognition training, along with progress reports to managers, so that they can best coach and recognize their participants to achieve program success, is highly impactful and memorable and it improves trust, collaboration and ultimately culture."

The Power of the Brand

"When we advise our customers on how to run incentive programs," said Scott Kooken, president, Links Unlimited, Cincinnati, Ohio, "ease of engagement is key. You'd be amazed how many times people run these types of programs, whether it is a safety program, recognition of years of service program, or a true loyalty incentive program, and they pick the right award products, but the process of how to get the gift is not well thought out. It is amazing how a lot of companies do everything right except the way a customer can order the gift (product)."

To achieve significant program impact, then, you need to ask, are the awards being offered of interest and appealing to the participants?

Kooken believes strongly in the power of the brand. "We first want to start with the experience. The next thing we look at is brands. We believe in the impact of a brand. We believe in market leaders, brands that are very well thought of in the retail space. We think that is the type of gift that should be used in an incentive program. Think about it: If you are giving away a knockoff S'well water bottle versus the S'well Water bottle, the award tells you what you think about the audience with whom you are trying to engage. There are many gifts out there that don't cost that much, but we try to teach our distributors the power of the brand. We understand the importance of the experience of receiving an award. When done correctly, it reinforces a customer's emotional connection with the company. The reward delivery experience must show appreciation for their patronage and help reinforce the brand promise."

Pick the product where you get the most bang for your buck, where people are very appreciative, Kooken said. Remember that in these incentive programs you are building loyalty or you are influencing decisions. You want to make sure the product is used and delivered in the right manner.

Make an Impact

Donnelly has been in the incentive business for a long time, he said, and "one of the big things that hurt incentive programs in the past is that they cut communications out. Now, things have changed. There are so many fun ways to deliver a message. For a sales incentive to our own people, we used a cartooning approach, using really simple videos that were fun and engaging and created a participant experience that engaged people.

"We are now looking at doing programs that include text messaging as part of the communications campaign," Neeley said. "What different types of messaging and communication are we going to do based on the technology the participants are using? What we do know is that we have found a very consistent approach, where when we are sending out communications, the more graphic they are, the more likely they are to be read."

The best incentive programs stand out by doing the following three things, Thiegs said:

  • Offer a relevant reward/incentive catalog that's curated to the program's unique user base.
  • Offer a variety of redemption means—for example, digital, mobile and physical. Many people still want to hold their reward, to feel it or give it to someone they love, which means offering a physical, tangible incentive is instrumental. But others, especially gen Z and gen Y/millennials, require their reward to be delivered in real time. If your program is multi-generational, to make it stand out, you'll need to offer a variety of redemption delivery options.
  • And finally, ensure that the reward is delivered fast and accurately.
  • "For instance, one of our responsibilities at NGC is to make sure the right gift card gets to the right person in the quickest amount of time possible with 22nd century level security. These things are important to the world's largest agencies, FI programs, healthcare rewards companies, and employee incentive providers. You need to have a reliable, trustworthy service and source for your incentives, as that fulfillment and redemption engine is the core of what gets the right reward into your participant's hands or mobile wallet."

    Fulfillment is critical. You want to make sure that fulfillment experience mirrors what you would consider now as the expectation, Kooken added. "As a company, we want to make sure that the product is boxed properly, the box itself looks good, it ships within 24 hours and it is at the recipient's address looking good and that the entire experience is pleasant."

    Call it the Amazon effect. "People expect an order to be at their house in two days," Kooken said, "so there is no way you can run a reward program where the recipient does not have that expectation. You have to ensure that you are set up properly to succeed. You can have the best products, the best website, you can have great turnout and engagement and then the product shows up in six weeks and you've failed."