Guest Column - September/October 2020

Why Success? Why Now?

By Tom Johnson

Why are there success stories in our business world during a pandemic?

Also, why would we see success in loyalty programs—a business where expenses can be controlled?

I learn something about this industry every day. One thing I do know is that one way to learn and succeed is to ask a lot of questions.

As I look at our business as a supplier in the premium incentive channel, I ask myself, "What do our partners need from us to help them succeed?"

Here are a few thoughts.


It can be easy to "hide" when things get tough. It is crucial to reach out to partners and listen to what is happening with their business.

Ask questions: What is working? What are your challenges? How are we doing as your partner? What else can we do?

Once you do this (listen), you create an opportunity to help people find solutions—"guide people through it." We have heard from every partner—"keep us in the loop." Let us know the good, the bad, the ideas—especially during these challenging times. Teams calls/Zoom calls may become tiresome, but they are effective, and people want to connect. If you have a plan, a purpose and an agenda, and your partner can see that you are trying to help, these conversations open all sorts of opportunities.


The loyalty and incentive business has changed. Quickly. It has not gone away. It has just moved (or "pivoted," to use a trendy word).

The President's Club trip to Cabo—not happening right now. Does that mean the high performers are not valued? Absolutely not! They are valued, and creative types find great ways to reward them with merchandise or services that are thoughtful and meaningful.

Employees who have never worked from home are being tasked to do something new and different, and still be productive. Create a "surprise and delight" kit and send it to them at home. And then maybe send another one just before the holidays. "Well, we have never done that before. Not sure we can pull it off." With the right partner, creativity and a little elbow grease, you can make a really nice impact.


The world seems to be a mess. There are people who are genuinely hurting, and it is really sad. Is it OK to feel good about having success in troubling times for so many?

As I write this, Target just announced Q2 earnings, and they have had crazy growth over Q2 last year. Think about the "loyalty" Target has gained with their guests.

Many retailers—large and small—have seen great success as of late, and they do a very good job of keeping in communication with their customers. However, many have struggled—restaurants, independent retailers/service providers, etc. Being "loyal" can help ease the burden of such stress for their business.


So, back to the "why." Why is there success now in this loyalty and incentive business?

These are not "new" thoughts, but some basics:

  • People are working from home—they have time to look at their "points" and find products that can help them through this time.
  • Companies are thankful for their employees being able to evolve and change with the times. And, be productive. To keep good employees, they have to reward them—let them know they are sincerely valued.
  • Travel budgets have been slashed—funds may now be used to still reward, incentivize and thank people for their efforts and successes.
  • Safety—PPE products are being given to employees, students, customers, etc., to try to do the very best to keep people healthy and safe.
  • Health and Wellness—There is a push in this category to make people aware of what they need to do to be healthy. With that comes opportunities to reward people to get on this kick—stay healthy, keep working, and keep healthcare costs down.

What does the future look like? I do not have that answer. I have asked many of our partners, "what do you think will happen in six to 12 months?" Nobody knows for sure. There will still be loyalty and incentive programs. There will always be the need to thank and recognize others. There will always be the opportunity for people to be appreciated—a gesture of thoughtfulness for doing good things. There will always be a gesture of thanks for supporting a business/restaurant/big box store/coffee shop, etc.

How can we be successful today? Think of others. Wish people well. Care about them. It is OK to have success in a tough time. But, do not keep it for yourself. Spread it where you can.

Tom Johnson is the National Account Executive for Links Unlimited, focusing on the premium/incentive channel. For more information, visit