Feature Article - April/May 2020

A Closer Look

IMRA Focuses on Membership & Industry Education

By Deborah L. Vence

This year, the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance (IMRA), a strategic industry group of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), continues its mission to bring value to members and focus on industry education.

IMRA, an organization that is comprised of corporate gift suppliers and independent manufacturers' representatives that provide brand name merchandise to incentive program providers, has "a strong start to 2020, with a continued focus on membership and participating in industry education opportunities," said Jeffrey Brenner, president of IMRA and director of special markets for Seiko Watch of America LLC, in Mahwah, N.J.

There is "ongoing involvement at the ASI Shows and PPAI Expo in leading sessions regarding the use of premium brands for corporate gifting and incentives," he added.

ASI Shows have grown to be the meeting place for top suppliers and quality distributors in the advertising specialty industry, according to information from IMRA's web site. And, PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) advocates the power and value of promotional products in the marketing and advertising professions to ensure the success of its members and the global industry.

Coming up this summer, IMRA's annual conference will be held in Clearwater Beach, Fla., from August 16 to 18. (The conference focuses on connecting and promoting manufacturers and representatives in the incentive industry.)

"Preparations are in full swing," Brenner said. "We will be offering the IP (Incentive Professional) Certification during the conference, compliments of IMA and IMRA. This will be at no cost to the attendees. We believe in the power of certification within the industry for both suppliers and reps."

Industry Trends

In looking at the latest trends in the incentives industry, "Experiential on-site gifting experiences continue to have an important place in the industry," Brenner said. "The recipient (consumer) is savvy and has a pulse on what is new in product, especially the immense influx of direct-to-consumer on-trend brands. These brands have incredible social media presence, which speak directly to these 'next generation' participants.

"Automation and technology advance daily, and new and innovative ways to not only deliver the incentive, but earn and redeem are important to how each company's 'go-to-market' strategy is developed," he added.

Brett Hauch, owner and vice president of Texas-based BC Incentives, which specializes in incentives, name brand merchandise, recognition awards, gifts, electronics and apparel, said that in his opinion, "Distributors are looking for new shopping experiences to offer their customers. Sunglasses are not the only category to offer for these events anymore. From fragrances to vacuums, I've seen and offered them all.

"Also, I believe our customers are asking more often to decorate name brand merchandise rather than relying on their ad specialty partners," he added.

Something that has been growing year after year is "the use of predictive analytics (PA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in incentives, rewards and recognition," noted Keith Wunderlich, national sales manager, Digital Products International Inc., St. Louis.

"Companies are using PA and AI to attract better talent, choosing the ideal award, which promotions are most effective, to further increase a customer personal experience," he said.

The casino industry "for the last few years has been the biggest user of premium merchandise," added Peter Adanalian, owner of Dragon Distribution Inc. in Oak Creek, Colo. "It seems that they are trending toward using more name brand goods than they have in the past. Their gamblers are demanding better and more prominent gifts from the casinos if they expect to get their playing dollars."

Value of IMRA, Working With Members

IMRA's membership includes representatives, manufacturers, national marketing companies, technology and resource providers, industry trade press and key industry stakeholders.

One of the values of working with IMRA members is that they offer "years of proven experience in all aspects of [the] incentive and recognition market," Wunderlich said, "from product selection, fulfillment, proven brand names and customization options to the latest and greatest trends.

"Their consultative approach to developing successful programs, without charge, is a win-win for both sides," he said. "Members are well trained by each supplier and apply years of experience with working with small- to large-sized companies and offer solutions from proven brand names."

Randy Renz, vice president of IMRA, and vice president of Target Marketing Associates Inc., a Florida-based multi-line manufacturers' representatives group that serves the special markets needs of Florida-based businesses, said there is a lot of value in working with IMRA members.

IMRA's membership includes representatives, manufacturers, national marketing companies, technology and resource providers, industry trade press and key industry stakeholders.

"You know you are dealing with the legitimate representative of that brand who knows what they speak of. (Counterfeit items have been a big issue among many)," Renz said. "They know quickly who to speak with to get the right answers. There is no standard among manufacturers, so IMRA members will let you know pricing, availability, sample policies, shipping information, time frame, etc.

"You will most often get the best pricing on name brand merchandise at the quantities you need," he added.

Hauch believes that "working with an IMRA member provides a layer of trust and security.

"Members," he added, "are committed to this channel only and our success is dependent on theirs."

What's more, IMRA members are very knowledgeable.